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Zofia Kulik

Ethnic Wars. Large Vanitas Still Life (1995/2017)

Having been selected to represent Poland at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997, Kulik gave the following description of the inspiration for her planned presentation: “Two years ago, the TV kept showing the following scenes: aerial shots of the sites of mass murders in Serbia. The snow had darkened and the places revealed corpses, the excavations yielded human skulls. What I observed was that these accounts invariably – not only in the case of the footage from Yugoslavia – carried an odd relationship between the depiction of a corpse in an ethnic war and the accompanying scene of crying women in despair. Those women typically wear scarves on their heads.”

In the end, Kulik did not include such a piece in the Polish Pavilion installation. However, she later went on to complete a work in which images of bare skulls were superimposed onto several dozen patterned scarves, offering a highly personal rendering of the artist’s mediated experience of the Yugoslav Wars that was, at the same time, shared by many in Europe.

In contrast to the majority of Kulik’s works, Ethnic Wars employs colour but, typically for her practice, it comprises authentic source material that the artist has structured using geometry and repetition: a single recurrent element set against varying backdrops. In combining the skull, as symbol of death, with rhythmic ornamental patterns, Kulik speaks of both the magnitude of war atrocities and the anonymity of its victims.



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