Exhibition | The Other Side – Justyna Sokołowska
The exhibition presents two sets of artworks: “The double-sided History of Jews from Podlasie” and a collection of illustrations for her artist’s book based on The Book of Genesis.
In the works on display, the artist raises the topic of good and evil and the duality of human nature. At the same time, by referring to traditional forms of representation, such as folk art and early Renaissance Dutch paintings, she reflects on contemporary Polish socio-political reality.
The first set of works focuses on the difficult memory of Jewish pogroms during World War II in Podlasie, the artist’s home. Inspired by the design characteristics of the double-warp weaving techni que, Sokołowska draws from the traditions of her region and has created six pairs of posters that at first glance seem innocuous and do not immediately reveal their traumatic content. Only after closely examining the images do we begin to understand them. The distinctive feature of double-warp fabrics is that they are made of two interweaving warps of different colours, where one side is the reverse colour of the other. Sokołowska has used the obverse and reverse sides of her “fabrics” to evoke the tragic events from Jedwabne, Bzury, Tykocin, Dzięgiel and Białystok.
The second set consists of black-and-white illustrations for The Book of Genesis showing Biblical scenes and events: the Garden of Eden, the Flood, The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, and crossing the Red Sea. On the one hand, their form hints at masters of early Renaissance Dutch masters, such as Hans Memling and Hieronymus Bosch, on the other – we see references to digital techniques. The works are constructed as triptychs with a dominant centrepiece and narrower side panels. At the same time, in terms of stylistics, the scenes remain strongly modernised. The effect is surprising and fascinating: against a background of tiny “pixels”, the artist places dozens of fantastic details, including figures of small, mostly naked people, bringing to mind paintings of the old masters, cartoons for children and illustrations from adult romance books. Sokołowska deliberately recalls the frenzy of bodies from such works as Memling’s “The Last Judgment” or Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, which for centuries ignited the imagination of viewers and responded to the never-ending thirst for the visual. Sokołowska’s biblical scenes, full of life, passion and the incredible, are a dialogue with tradition and a commentary on carnality as a cultural construct.
At their core, these seemingly unconnected series of Sokołowska’s artworks touch on current universal issues and themes, such as the duality of human nature and their never-ending entanglement in the discourse of power which has always asserted the right to rule over the histories, bodies and the awareness of those who are subject to it.
Justyna Sokołowska – a graduate of the Faculty of Polish Studies at the University of Warsaw and the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw. She primarily focuses on book design. Her graphic design for the book “Złota Różdżka” / “Struwwelpeter” won a distinction in the contest organised by the Fine Arts Academy in Katowice: “The best-designed book. Let’s start with children” and in the contest for The Book of the Year 2017 organised by the Polish Section of IBBY. She is the winner of the 2018 edition of the JASNOWIDZE / Clairvoyants contest. It resulted in the publication of a book with her illustrations “Amadeusz Foczka (ale z głową bobra)” / “Amadeus (the beaver-headed) Seal”.
Sokołowska’s illustrations to “The Book of Genesis” won the “Graphic of the Year” award. She has also illustrated books about wolves and werewolves of Europe ( “Wycie w ciemności. Wilki i wilkołaki Europy”) and vampires (“W górach przeklętych. Wampiry Alp, Rudaw, Sudetów, Karpat i Bałkanów”). She has created animated illustrations for the play Woierna Wataha by The Helena Modrzejewska Theatre in Legnica. The project “The Doublewarped History of Jews from Podlasie” was accepted for the Main Exhibition at the International Print Triennale 2021 in Cracow.