The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

Artists should not be silent

Thursday, 12 July 2018, 15:55 Last update: about 9 months ago

Found a mentalism II is an exhibition that examines art and artists’ role in conflict. Here, ANKA LESNIAK, whose art is part of the landmark exhibition currently showing at Spazju Kreattiv, tells us more about her piece.

Malta, barely a speck on the world map, has always been an important base for geopolitical affairs. That role has not changed much over the years and, in many ways, it is our greatest strength as a nation.

Geopolitics gives us a voice and our location at the crossroads between Africa, Europe and the Middle East makes us a great place to bring together cultures, peoples and ideas. And that is exactly what Found ă mentalism II, a multi-media exhibition by Spazju Kreattiv in collaboration with the Germany-based contemporary art organisation Ostrale, has aimed to do.


"It is not possible to separate art from politics," says Leśniak, who has participated in more than 80 individual and group shows with her art and whose work is now on display at Spazju Kreattiv. "Art reflects, in a direct or indirect way, the condition of human beings, which is affected by the socio-political systems in which they live."

Anka is Polish and her work at Found ă mentalism II is called Women patRIOTs. Concerning both the notions of nationalism and feminism, her work - which is made up of three dresses with imitation weapons, portrait photos and one video-work - looks at the many ways women resisted Tsarist officials in the past in Poland, sometimes even using typically-terroristic strategies including throwing bombs from balconies and causing the loss of innocent lives.

"I came across a book entitled Polish Terrorists by Wojciech Lada in which one of the chapters is devoted to the women who organised attacks on Russian officials. This story is also presented in the video-work that is a part of my project shown in the exhibition.

"The aim of my work, however, is not to judge if Polish women involved in the movement of resistance against Russia were more terrorists or more national heroines, but to pose questions about contemporary and future phenomena: What is the position of Polish patriotism with regard to unrest and changes in contemporary Europe? How do women themselves perceive their role in this situation? And do we need to follow men's strategies?"

As nationalism and populism take over Poland, Anka's work could not be more timely. But it also goes beyond Poland and its history. Many European countries are seeing a resurgence in ideologies that had been side-lined in the aftermath of World War II... But, over seven decades after the bloodshed, and with what seems to be an identity crisis afflicting many Western nations, the threat of further conflict is very real.

"I consider contemporary art in general to be a human activity in which more questions are posed than answers given, and this is its great value. What I try to do as an artist is to evoke the moments or people from the past that seem important to me from contemporary discourses, such us gender, national and ethnic identity, otherness and colonialism," Anka continues.

Art, as Anka rightly says, makes it possible for us to understand each other, regardless of nationality, language barriers, culture or experience. And that is why an exhibition like Found ă mentalism II is causing such a stir. Through tens of artists hailing from Europe, China, Russia, Israel and beyond, it seeks to get art to act against potential violence and to help us embrace cultural diversity and foster tolerance. 

"I think the critical approach to society expressed with the use of artistic means is a powerful tool. Perhaps it is not powerful enough to stop conflicts and wars, but what we can do as artists is to not follow and not support the propaganda that precedes such conflicts. And, obviously, we should not be silent when conflicts happen," she concludes.

Found ă mentalism II is open until Sunday, 29 July and it is unmissable not only for culture vultures but also for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the world around them and the events that are shaping history as we speak. Free to visit, the exhibition is an important commentary on where we've come from and where we could be heading.

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