Dominika Kowynia
Animals She Houses

Polana Institute
Stanisława Noakowskiego 16/35
March 17–April 2, 2023

Dominika Kowynia's latest cycle centers around the theme of emancipation, both in liberation and the endowment of full rights. The paintings and accompanying stories explore the two poles of emancipation. On one hand, there is the intense need for work, connected with development and the fight for individual rights, and on the other hand is a collective movement towards emancipation, founded on the narratives of community and support amongst women, and the rejection of constant productivity as the ultimate measure of worth. These two opposing forces are depicted in a delicate dance, as exemplified in the paintings Faster and Keep working. This dance reflects the overlapping cultures of patriarchy and an emerging but yet not fully established inclusive culture that seeks a horizontal hierarchy.

Dominika Kowynia's paintings seem to be a collective inner female portrait, with the artist  embodying all of the depicted women. The objects and nature shown in her works are not autonomous but reflect the artist's state of mind, in keeping with the romantic tradition. This is evident in her characteristic use of parallax, which allows for a simultaneous observation of objects which are at varying distances from the observer.

Through her work, Kowynia examines the concept of work as a symbol of emancipation. While she grapples with the positivistic belief that hard work ensures development, she is equally unsure whether it fosters or hinders relationship building. This doubt becomes the central intriguing protagonist of her art.

In the painting Forest, a woman with a resemblance to the artist is shown engaged in weaving or embroidery. The object in front of her, however, resembles more the skull in Holbein's The Ambassadors than a skein of yarn. The pink fluid is reminiscent of a bodily fragment or body fluids that have spilled into a Renaissance landscape. The upright, stiff figure sitting at the table contrasts with the ‘relaxed’, contorted, ecstatic, fluid skull in the foreground, creating a powerful visual statement.

Fragmentation is a recurring theme in Dominika Kowynia's work, as often reflected in the titles of her pieces, such as Halfway, Her Performative Part, and In the Eye. These titles suggest that honesty towards oneself, or personal integrity, can be achieved through the separation and rejoining of elements, as well as by utilizing the communal experience and elements of the ‘other’.

What is particularly fascinating in Kowynia's work is the role of landscapes. Trees, forests and their trunks are depicted as if they were missing human limbs. The paintings show only the trunks of the trees, but they serve as a solid foundation, a column that is an integral part of the human body. In Halfway, for example, the trunk carried by two women complements the absence of the entire figure – the third woman from the group we can see in the distance. The composition, an intuitive reference to Renaissance pietas, Laocoön and His Sons, or The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, are slightly self-ironic yet powerful allusions to the artist's emancipatory pursuits.

Exhibition view