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22nd Red Dawns Festival: To jest wojna//This Is War – A Selection of Protest Posters of the All-Polish Women’s Strike

05 March 2021 > 31 March 2021 Kindly invited to visit "To jest wojna//This Is War - A Selection of Protest Posters of the All-Polish Women's Strike"exhibition, on Friday, 5th March from 11 a.m. till Friday, 26th March. The exhibition is a part of 22nd International Feminist & Queer Festival Red Dawns.

The exhibition is also set up in the virtual gallery of the online portal

The main exhibition of the Red Dawns festival in the Alkatraz Gallery will feature the latest works of Polish artists of different generations, which were made in support of the protests against additional curtailment of the already limited right to abortion. The selected works include predominantly art posters in various techniques, which were used with a clear political message against the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court. Mass protests in Poland lasted for two weeks in October and November 2020, and they temporarily postponed the publication of the Constitutional Court's decision. However, on 27 January 2021, the decision of the Constitutional Court was entered in the Official Gazette, and so the law officially came into force. Thus, In Poland now 'abortion is only allowed if health and life of the mother are endangered and if there is a reasonable suspicion that the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape'.[1] Despite measures to contain coronavirus, protesters again took to the streets. Poland has had one of the strictest laws that limit the right to abortion since 1993, the power of the Catholic Church is enormous, and the political power has been in the hands of conservative right for many years. Lately, Poland is making a number of conservative political decisions, such as the establishment of 'areas without LGBT ideologies' and the exit from the Istanbul Convention. In light of this, the decision of the Constitutional Court is just another in the series of decisions that infringe women's* rights. Protests against far-right conservative policies have taken place several times in recent years, but without wider public support. This time, the protests are therefore a peculiarity, filling us with hope, as despite the situation with Covid-19, millions of people took part.

The protests marked by the slogans: wypierdalać (fuck off), jebać PiS[2] (fuck PiS), to jest wojna (this is war), piekło kobiet (hell for women), inspired numerous Polish artists. The Red Dawns team recognizes their contribution to community building in the resistance against patriarchal oppression through visual art, which, as always, proves to be an incredible connecting moment. The majority of the invited artists made their works publicly available, so that protesters could download, print, and use them at protests. All works — from the now globally recognisable lighting bolt symbol, which was designed for the first protest in 2016 by Ola Jasionowska — to clothes hangers, black umbrellas, female bodies, and resistance slogans, express ideas of community, solidarity, and resistance to the violence of patriarchal ruling elites.

The others who are exhibiting their posters in the Alkatraz Gallery are Dagmara Skwarska, Agata Królak, Karolina Brzuszek and Anna Kniejewska. Zuzanna Stach presents herself with the only animation entitled Boję się (I'm afraid), which convincingly depicts the feelings of fear and sadness in an effective and compact format. What connects the works is the motif of lightning bolt, either as a symbol for vulva by Karolina Brzuszek, as a part of a torso with a knee lifted into a furious protest against the violence against women by Agata Królak, or as a part of a hint at an explosion of a vessel (for giving birth) as a metaphor for woman's body by Anna Kniejewska. The only artist that in her exhibited work, formally (but certainly in terms of content) does not include the lightning bolt, is Dagmara Skwarska, who places the stretched middle finger in front of a stylized, spread intimate area. By doing so, she communicates that women's bodies are not a collective possession of any ideology, state, or anything or anyone else than women themselves. Regarding the situation in Poland, [3] which seems closer to us than ever, Ola Jasionowska describes how right-wing narratives attribute fascist connotations to feminists and LGBTQIA population and initiatives, and emphasises that labelling people that fight for human rights (including the rights of minorities and women*) as fascists is at the same time stupid and cruel. Namely, the lighting bolt represents the movement with values that are diametrically opposite to fascism; its main message is freedom.

In their works, the artists also play with colours associated with Polish national symbols, and highlight the discrepancy between the state policy and human (women's) rights it was supposed to represent. The artists who present different generations at the exhibition (from students to established artists) and embody different, but sophisticated artistic and aesthetic approaches, have entered a political fight that creates a common visual image on the basis of the feminist slogan personal is political. This fight is in its diversity and frequency stronger that its individual parts. The works of the exhibited artists express the complexity of resistance process both on the personal and collective level, embody personal feelings of sadness, fear and raw anger, but at the same time, transcend intimate feelings into humble, yet solid optimism with the background idea of community and solidarity. The latter is already indicated by their intentionally publicly accessible poster art, available for the purposes of reproduction and use in protesting actions, both physically and on social media.

Polish experience clearly demonstrates how the fight for rights, also basic human rights, is a long process. In this fight, small victories of the masses are of paramount importance, but they never signify the final victory and the end of the process. Namely, those in power always have plenty of resources and time at their disposal to start denying and violating them in the moments when we are most vulnerable, as it is visible nowadays while the pandemic is being abused for gross violation of human rights.

Lucija Zajc, Eva Jus, Saša Nemec, Ana Grobler, Tamara Klavžar

*includes all genders that identify with the word

Karolina Brzuszek is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She studies graphic design, which is also her main artistic language. Currently, she is working on her diploma on polish folk games. She also creates illustrations for children, paints and designs books. She has participated in several illustration projects during her studies, including creating illustrations for a feminist guide, published by her academy in Warsaw, titled From students for students. 

Ola Jasionowska is a Warsaw-based illustrator and graphic designer. She has been working as an art director at Warsaw City Hall since 2016, collaborating on key visuals for various city events. She often collaborates with theatres and museums in Poland to help their visual branding. You may recognize Ola’s powerful designs created and shared by many in support of the Polish Women on Strike. Ola is the original illustrator to have used the ‘Lightning Bolt’ design that has since become the symbol of Women’s rights in Poland. You may now see Ola’s design being shared as a call for female empowerment and activism on posters, flyers, and clothing of those in support of the movement.

Dagmara Skwarska is an artist from Poland and a graduate of Graphic Design at Polish-Japanese Academy of Computer Techniques at the New Media Arts Faculty. She is a laureate of many poster art and applied graphics competitions. She participated in numerous international exhibitions, only recently in Oslo (exhibition Erotica), in Moscow (Human on Part) and in Poland (As Asian).  She likes to work with colours and tackle uncomfortable social topics. Her favourite techniques are digital and screen printing. She often supports animal protection campaigns with her works. When she wants to rest, she reads books, creates illustrations for children, and watches Netflix movies.

Zuzanna Stach (born 1992 in Poznan, Poland) is animator and illustrator. She loves creating flamboyant and dynamic characters, drawing inspiration from nature, sculptures and fashion. Currently, she is working on the script of her short film diploma at the Polish National Film School in Lodz. She is experienced in filmography, as a director, she also makes animations and writes scripts. Her short films and animations have received numerous nominations, she also received the Canal+ Award for her animated short film Wyspa (2017), which was also awarded at The Competition of short debuts.

Anna Kniejewska was born 1994 in Kraków, Poland. Currently, she is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She usually creates joyous illustrations and posters trying to capture the whimsicality of life as opposed to harsh reality. Nie jestem naczyniem ​(​I am not a vessel​) poster was created as a form of a protest against the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, which decided to ban abortion in Poland, even if the mother’s life was at risk.

Agata Królak is living and working in Gdańsk. She illustrates and designs books for children of all ages, playing with visual literacy. Her picture books were published in Poland, China, Argentina, France and Italy, and her illustrations were showcased in New York, Tokyo, London, Brussels and Paris. She is an assistant teacher at the Illustration Studio of the Graphic Design Department at Fine Arts Academy in Gdańsk, where she finished her PhD in 2018.


Curators: Lucija Zajc, Eva Jus, Saša Nemec, Ana Grobler, Tamara Klavžar
Videos from All-Polish Women's Protests:  
Wiktoria Domżalka, Martyna Gaweł, Karolina Kalinowska, Bianka Konors, Julian Mazur, Klaudia Stadler, Monika Szarek, Paulina Nowaczewska.
Lucija Zajc
Project production: KUD Mreža/ Rdeče zore, online exhibition production: KUD Mreža in Društvo za uveljavljanje enakosti in pluralnosti Vita Activa/

Photographs by: Nada Žgank.

[1] (viewed 3/2/2021)

[2] Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice)  is a ruling Polish right-wing ultraconservative and populist political party.  

[3] (viewed 10/2/ 2021)

Zuzanna Stach Ola Jasionowska Karolina Brzuszek Daga Skwarska Anna Kniejewska Agata Królak