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802% Above the Norm in Red Barn Gallery

19 April 2009 3 Comments

802 THE RED BARN GALLERY in Belfast is to host the launch of Northern Ireland’s third Polish Cultural Week on Saturday 2nd May. The event will springboard a week long showcase of Polish cultural and artistic expression across all platforms.

In its second year of involvement with the project, the Red Barn, a photographic gallery, will host the powerful 802% Above the Norm exhibition, which features the work of photographers Henryk Makarewicz and Wiktor Pental  from The Visavis.pl Photographers’ Collective. It casts a sharply ironic light on Poland’s years under communism and many of the images on show spent over half a century in hiding from the consequences of state censorship.

The exhibition’s title reflects the state’s propagandist claims that front rank mining and construction workers could exceed work targets by anything up to 2000 per cent, during the construction of the city of Nova Huta (Communist City of Dreams) during the forties and fifties. The state-sponsored images of ‘workers’ (many were models) wearing sashes detailing their target-thrashing achievements aimed to provide poster boys and girls for a long working week.

The photographers’ own pictures, however, explore the migration of masses from the countryside to industrial labour in Nowa Huta’s Lenin Steelworks; a project which sparked a communist myth of sublime socialist realist planning and art, which clashed with the brutal urban reality of its inhabitants. The conflict between myth and reality led to expressions of resistance which eventually resulted in the Solidarity revolution of the eighties and the collapse of Polish communism.

Both photographers chronicled the construction of Nowa Huta from the foundations up and, although the images are all based in the city, they are a powerful representation of contemporary Polish life under communist rule.

Henryk Makarewicz enjoyed certain privileges as a cameraman for the Polish Film Chronicle. Taking pictures in places denied to others, he and his camera were inseparable. Wiktor Pental on the other hand witnessed almost every corner of the new city as a part of his duties on a construction site. Both photographers seized images that they were not contracted to take and the result is an archive with exceptional visual power and universal human impact.

Makarewicz’s formal precision and Pental’s deft humour complement one another perfectly.

Polish Cultural Week representative Jakub Swiderek says ‘It’s by understanding one another’s history that we understand one another, and this exhibition is a powerful reflection of Polish cultural history.’ The Red Barn Gallery’s Director, photographer Frankie Quinn, says ‘These are brave and exceptional images which have as much impact today as they were when they were taken.’

Project by Imago Mundi Foundation & Visavis.pl Photographers’ Collective

Venue: Red Barn Gallery | 43b Rosemary Street BT1
Date: 3 May – 18 May, exhibition opening 2 May at 7 pm

For press enquires contact Jakub Swiderek on 028 9336 4400 or jakub@linkpolska.com


  • irka said:

    spoko bylo :) winko szybko sie skonczylo ale co tam. zdjecia świetne, ludzie na wernisazu tez.

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