Red Has a Dark Value on Black and White Photos
Project info

Józef Piłsudski played a pivotal role in the struggle for Polish sovereignty, emerging after the restoration of Polish independence, in 1918, as a leader of the interwar Second Polish Republic. Over the course of his turbulent career, a cult of personality grew around him, to the extent of becoming an official ideology of the Polish government. After WWII, the Communist authorities attempted to suppress the cult; but in the aftermath of 1989, it flourished anew.

For my project, I investigate archival images, blending them indistinguishably with my own, in an attempt to present the cult of Józef Piłsudski as a parable-like frame through which to analyse the sociopolitical situation in present-day Poland. Images from the Second Polish Republic are intermixed with photographs of sculptures of Piłsudski and my own self-portraits. In the process, chronologies of creation are deliberately confused.

The timeline of Piłsudski’s adult life is bracketed by a fascinating dichotomy: first, the young Piłsudski, a rebel, even a ‘terrorist’ in Tsarist eyes, throwing himself against the Russian Empire with insurgent zeal; and then the old-guard Piłsudski, an entrenched pillar of the establishment, against whom others would plot and rebel. This is a story that can be slotted into the context of contemporary Polish politics.

The project and its title are oriented around the Polish flag with its horizontal white and red stripes, with the title an observation that although red is a bright colour, when converted into greyscale its value is dark.

Red has one more key association here: Józef Piłsudski fought against Soviet aggression—and yet he governed Poland in ways that echoed the Soviet system of a society moulded around a cult of personality.