On July 18 2003 the Court
in Gdansk sentenced the artist Dorota Nieznalska for the offence of religious
feelings. Nieznalska has the six months’ restriction of freedom, she has to work
for charitable organizations, 20 hours a months and she has to pay all the costs
of the trial (lots of money).
The subject of dispute between the artist and the radical nationalist party, the League of Polish Families, was her installation “Passion”, in which the artist had been placed a photo of a fragment of naked male body including the genitalia on an object in the shape of a cross together with the projection of an image of a man’s face in the course of a hard training exercise. The artist has concerned herself for several years with the problem of maleness and of the connection of its models with the Christian paradigm of culture. This work was a natural extension of this trend. The picture of the work you could see also in www.spam.art.pl and www.hysterics.art. pl
The work has been shown at the Wyspa Gallery in Gdansk on December 2001 and the beginning of 2002. The picture of the cross was published by local newspaper and after few days again in TV news. In fact the ‘bad’ story was created by the media. This case immediately was used by the conservative politicians to propagate their own ideology. Those who were supposedly offended never saw the installation as a real work, but these people went to prosecutor office wanted the prosecutor’s accusation. The prosecutor very quickly arrested an installation and sent accusation to the Court. The gallery Wyspa was closed by rector of Fine Art Academy on January 2002.
The decision of the court is based on a surprising interpretation of Article 196 of the Penal Code, which concerns the protection of religious feelings. According to the interpretation, the cross created by the artist is an object of religious adoration. The verdict discriminates in favour of the dominant religion to the detriment of other world-views and attitudes and sanctions the taking into possession of a symbol of a universal character by one religion. It is worth paying attention to the fact that part of the punishment imposed on the artist includes community work, which clearly is intended to inform society that artistic creativity is not work, which is a grave threat to the social situation of artists in Poland.
Today we have a large campaign to overturn the conviction of the artist in an appeal process based on the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and to freedom of creative expression. We appeal to you for support in the battle for creative freedom in Poland, but we know, that it may change nothing.
As you know Poland will be soon in EU with bad law, which was changed during last 13 years. The process of law transformation was quite strange, because parliament created the new law as a compromise between liberal politicians (very gently and nice people) and the Catholic Church, ultra conservative and nationalistic members of parliament (extremely aggressive guys). This law gives possibility of checking everything around for many catholic and nationalistic activists, which could make very easy the official accusation. Each one could go to prosecutor and to say: I am offended. Dorota Nieznalska is the first but not the last victim of this poor legal system. The next trial against artist is waiting in Court in Wroclaw. The painter Ryszard Wozniak is charged for the offence of national feelings. Many public and even private galleries in Poland are afraid to expose the provocative works. Many directors and curators of the galleries lost their job during last 3 - 4 years. Many galleries does not exist anymore, because they exposed something wrong. We are afraid to invite artists from abroad, because it is a high risk decision. Many times I had such problems with people, which were hunting for ‘incorrect works’. Many times I was really surprised that some innocent work could offence someone. We did not expect, that in Poland we will have such people, especially in parliament. But we have them and it is a brutal true. We really afraid about the freedom in art. Maybe we have only one possibility: just to give a question to European Commission, Brussels and personally to ask Reijo KEMPPINEN Reijo.KEMPPINEN@cec.eu.int and Romano Prodi Romano.Prodi@cec.eu.int: Did the European Commission check the Polish law in aspect of freedom of expression and freedom of art compare to the European law standards? We are sure, that nobody cares (I mean both sides: Polish government - left wing - and the European Commission) for such basic human rights. As usually they were talking about agriculture, trade, some non important European standards like size of eggs and apples.
Also the same question could be sent to the European Commission (Education and Culture General-Directorate) email@example.com. int because quite soon to the European Parliament will come our conservative representatives and they will try to change EU’s law by fighting for Christian values.
Please feel free in your reactions on this letter. We just need the world wide public discussion about the artist’s freedom in Poland. If you want to send the support letter please send it to the art critics Aneta Szylak firstname.lastname@example.org and Lukasz Guzek email@example.com