Polish Prints During Cold War Communism: Political and cultural realities represented in art

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Marta Anna Raczek-Karcz, Assistant Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland, delivers a lecture titled "Metaphor and Irony: The Krakow School of Printmaking." Raczek-Karcz lectures on contemporary printmaking and graphic design, film history, and history and theory of art and media studies.  Photo by Matthew Pickett / The Daily Campus.

Marta Anna Raczek-Karcz, Assistant Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland, delivers a lecture titled “Metaphor and Irony: The Krakow School of Printmaking.” Raczek-Karcz lectures on contemporary printmaking and graphic design, film history, and history and theory of art and media studies. Photo by Matthew Pickett / The Daily Campus.

Prints in the Benton Museum’s exhibition DEMOKRACJA GRAFIKA propelled lecture attendees back to the days of the Cold War Wednesday night. Marta Anna Raczek-Karcz, an assistant professor in the Graphic Art Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland, discussed the prints’ cultural and political backstory and how Cold War communism shaped this art.  

Raczek-Karcz first examined Mieczsław Wejman’s “Cyclist” series, pointing the metaphor in these prints. Throughout the series, viewers see a man who has just fallen off his bicycle in different scenes. The man remains similar — sprawled on the ground, his bike toppled over — while those around him change.  

The professor noted how no one seemed to be helping the cyclist and how the indifference of another cyclist in one of the prints was a low blow: One of his own kind fails to help him.  

The metaphor of the series lies in this fact. It was difficult to be an individual during the times, and a group mindset was favored over individualism, though that did not seem to help the fallen cyclist in any of the prints.  

“Even though he is seeing what’s happened, he is also not very much interested in what [is] happening,” Raczek-Karcz said. “To be [an] individual in communist time was something that no one was interested in … If you are individual, you’ve got your own problems.”  

University of Connecticut Students in the audience enjoyed learning about the history and ideology behind the prints. 

“I’m very interested in history, especially like post-World War II,” Kristina Deyo, a first-semester art and German studies double major, said. “I guess it was just cool seeing how art of the time period represented the politics of the time.” 

Raczek-Karcz further discussed how the younger generation’s sentiments about their circumstances were reflected in their work. Artists used irony to highlight the contradictions of communism. 

She mentioned Jerzy Dmitruk’s “Theater” and Tadeusz Król’s “Great Race” as examples. The professor talked about the people felt there was some sort of amorphous opportunity waiting for them, but didn’t know where to find it, what it was or how to get there.  

The last print that Raczek-Karcz discussed was “Backstage.” She noted how backstage is the area where actors can stop playing and be who they truly are.  

“[Printmakers are] also able to show us what we really are,” Raczek-Karcz said. “It is always good when the artist sometimes is showing us, okay you’re a great nation, but sometimes [you can be] absolutely awful.” 

The prints carried multiple meanings, and audience members were able to decipher some of them by the end of Raczek-Karcz’s lecture. Some even connected to the turbulent history behind the prints and were able to see how they connected to everyday life during the time.  

“I looked at these before but didn’t realize what it meant, but her presentation has helped a lot,” Ralf Schiffler, a mathematics professor at the UConn, said. “I knew about the historic facts. I’m from Germany, so I remember when there was martial laws, I saw that on TV when it happened.” 


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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