Wilhelm Sasnal

Two new paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal directly relate to iconic post-war paintings with an anti-fascist message. Back in Warsaw is a reworking of the poster under the same title by Eryk Lipiński and Tadeusz Trepkowski from 1945. Visible above a ruined house is a dove, the symbol of peace. Despite the ghastliness of the building still illuminated with a bloody halo, the poster emanates joy at the end of the war and the return to the hometown. The original version features the logo of Robotnik (a magazine published in Warsaw since 1894 by the Polish Socialist Party) inscribed in the silhouette of the dove. In a literal sense, this alluded to the return of the magazine’s editorial board to the capital at that time. But a broader political message was also involved: it was communism that had brought us peace and victory over fascism, and it was communism that would define the post-war future. Sasnal abandons that element, lending his piece a more universal undertone.

The painting "Never Again War" depicts a famous monument: the inscription of longer than fifty metres installed in 1966 at Westerplatte in Gdańsk, the site of the symbolic beginning of World War II. Letters cut out in sheet metal are characterized by the trademark propaganda decoration aesthetics of the Polish People’s Republic. The landscape with the monument painted by Sasnal in a simplified, poster-like form underscores the immense power and topicality of the slogan on one hand, while on the other hand it reveals the artist’s concern whether the spell displayed in that place for over five decades is able to protect us from the unknown future. The poplar alley in the background of the monument in Sasnal’s vision produces the impression of a murky, inscrutable force, and the bright sky is disturbed by an ominous pink halo.

Created with an analogue 8 mm camera, the film "Warsaw" shows in a static shot the artist’s hand turning the pages of the album Warsaw: 1945, Today and Tomorrow. The book, edited by Stanisław Jankowski and Adolf Ciborowski, was released in 1979 and juxtaposed photographs of a ruined Warsaw from the end of the war with modern-day images of the same locations, thus building a positive narrative of the miracle of the city’s reconstruction and the victory of peaceful internationalism. Sasnal allows the viewer to contemplate the album, unhurriedly revealing image after image. Contrasting with that tranquillity is the soundtrack, a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” by the British grindcore band Napalm Death. The combination of images of the turmoil of war with a contemporary anti-fascist protest song shows that for Sasnal, the threat of ideologically motivated violence is not a matter of the past, and the sequence of events is not sealed once and for all: the Warsaw we know may once again turn to dust.

Supporting the activity of the Never Again Association (and the magazine under the same title), which counters racism, neo-fascism and xenophobia, Wilhelm Sasnal created graphic works with a radically anti-fascist message, for instance in reaction to the marches of fascist-oriented groups on Polish Independence Day (11 November). Income from the sales of both editions were donated to the association.

Wilhelm Sasnal (b. 1972 in Tarnów) works in the fields of painting, film, drawing, and photography. Between 1996 and 2001, Sasnal co-created the Ładnie Group alongside Rafał Bujnowski, Marek Firek, Józef Tomczyk “Kurosawa” and Marcin Maciejowski. Music and comic strips are important sources of inspiration for him. Recognized as a leading artist of his generation, his works are found in the holdings of numerous major museums and private collections (such as New York’s MoMA, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and Tate Modern in London).

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