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Košice: UNION OF SLOVAKIA-POLAND
November 27, 2014 - January 21, 2015
UNION OF SLOVAKIA-POLAND
curator: Andrzej Szczerski
artists: Marcin Maciejowski, Monika Niwelińska, Agnieszka Piksa, Wilhelm Sasnal, Jakub Woynarowski
Since the early 1930s in Slovakia and Poland a public discussion began concerning possible copperation between the two states and two nations. The idea of Slovak-Polish unity or even Slovak-Polish state was promoted in Slovakia by representatives of by the Ludaks party, centered around Karol Sidor. In Poland he found his counterparts among members of the ruling political front of Sanacja, lead by pro-Slovak MP Feliks Gwiżdż. The Slovak-Polish cooperation was based on the current political situation, but also on Sidor conviction that Catholic and anti-Bolshevik Poland is culturally closer to Slovaks than the Czechs. He thought that that Poles would provide a better environment for the development of the Slovak nation, and the Polish form of government should be a role model for Slovakia. In Poland Slovakia was considered a more reliable partner than Czechoslovakia, dominated by the Czechs, reluctant to work with Poles. The Polish-Slovak cooperation would also strengthen Polish endeavours to integrate Central Europe around Warsaw. These hopes were crashed with the consequences of the 1938 Munich Agreement and subsequent domination of Germany over independent Slovakia.
The idea of Slovak-Polish commonwealth was quickly forgotten, it was not discussed neither during the Cold War years nor after 1989 when the Visegrad Quarter was built. The historical fact however is worth reconsideration especially since these few years of neighbourly fascination resulted in numerous initiatives not only in politics and diplomacy, but above all in cultural life. Among the most prominent of them one could mention the book by Karol Sidor “Journey to Poland” (1927), thorough and appreciative description of northern neighbour, clearly pointing towards common future of Slovakia and Poland. Also thanks to Sidor in Slovakia several translations of Polish literature were published. In turn, Polish translations of Slovak literature, which appeared in the 1930s, were supervised by the The Štúr Society of the Friends of Slovaks, established in 1936 under the auspices of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Polish state funded scholarships and excursions to Poland for members of Slovak intelligentsia and in Zakopane a special journal “The Podhale Land” dedicated to Polish-Slovak cooperation was issued. Last but not least the Jagiellonian University in Kraków developed Slovak studies. The first results of the scholarly work were published in two volumes study “Slovakia and Slovaks” edited by Władysław Semkowicz (1937-38).
The history of unfulfilled yet planned union is an example of unexpected initiative for the Central European unity, which disappeared from the history textbooks. Union of Slovakia-Poland shows clearly that in our region of Europe the plans for the regional cooperation never disappeared and each nation was welcomed to be part of it. What if the Slovakia-Poland really materialized? The exhibition presents works of contemporary artists from Kraków, which was the center of Slovak studies in Poland in the 1930s. Their works reflect on the identity of the would-be state. Jakub Woynarowski proposes a new visual identification of Union of Slovakia-Poland in reference to Slovak graphic design of the 1930s, both from the official state documents and the works of avant-garde designers. For Monika Niwelińska’s work the pretext are the changing borders of both states as well as topography of Slovakia as published in Poland before 1939. She uses photographic emulsion to sketch a map of new territory of united Slovakia and Poland, which during the exhibition will disappear due to the penetration of light. The paintings of Marcin Maciejowski quote film stills from the Polish movies of the 1960s and 70s, which were based on Polish 19th century novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz and Władysław Reymont, which thanks to Karol Sidor were translated into Slovak. Hence Maciejowski paintings envision the popular visual culture of Slovakia-Poland, such as the painting after Polish film series “Third Border” (1975). It told the story of common fight of Poles and Slovaks against Germany during the WWII and featured figures of proud Slovak highlanders, symbols of noble struggle for freedom. In Wilhelm Sasnal paintings we could find allegorical representations referring to Catholic faith, which was to unite Poles and Slovaks. They feature Polish primate cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, who saw national and religious issues as mutually dependent. Sasnal also visualizes other common Slovak-Polish symbols such as mountains or countryside landscape, which in his works appear to be in-between romantic sublime, the documentation of the real, and meaningless stereotypes. Agnieszka Piksa talks about Polish-Slovak interests studying the description of Slovakia left by geography students from Kraków who toured the country in 1937, supervised by their professors from the Jagiellonian University.
Today, Union of Slovakia-Poland can be a pretext to rethink who Slovaks and Poles are, and above all a testimony to the fact, that alternative histories can be lots more inspiring than those that really happened.