Contemporary art it is the language of people, which they haven’t distinguish yet.

Monika Szewczyk talks about the activity of the Arsenal gallery, cultural policy, and the “Eastern Partnership” in terms of relations between artists.


Open Place interviewed Monika Szewczyk

October 26, 2013
Tbilisi. Georgia


Monika Szewczyk is an art historian, an exhibition curator, the director of Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok, Poland. Since 1990, she’s been creating collection of II Gallery Arsenal. Monika Szewczyk is the author and curator of more than 100 exhibitions. There’re “The Journey to the East” (Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland and MOCAK, Krakow, Poland), “Here & Now” (Zaheta Gallery, Warsaw, Poland and Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland), “Four Roses” (Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland), “How to talk about contemporary art” (Jak rozmawiać o sztuce współczesnej; Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland). In 2011 she was the curator of the third festival of arts in the public space “Public place” in Lublin, Poland.

Open Place: How gallery may affect the cultural policy of the state, and how policy affects the gallery?

Monika Szewczyk: Our influence on the policy of the state is minimal. We work at the provincial city gallery, though not in a small town. Perhaps, the only thing we can do, it’s to do our duties, which includes to show contemporary art as better as we can, focusing on the essential artists from Poland and other countries. And if the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage wants to make some conclusions from our program, it’s very well. Gallery can only scream and emphasize in its provincial town that these artists, works and projects are incredibly important. And for all of us is important to demonstrate this progressive art.


Open Place: Provincial, as you say, gallery organize workshops in Tbilisi and Kiev. It seems that it’s a proper policy of the state, which makes this work possible. Is it true?

Monika Szewczyk: It’s my own decision. I was always interested in the presentation of Polish art and in its promotion abroad. I started to do such activity, and it’s been developed. Then work only with Polish art became a too narrow path for me. I feel that our position is estimated by the Ministry, its officials know that our gallery is fine, and they trust to our work.

Why did we start doing projects abroad? I’ve been working at the gallery in Bialystok for twenty years, and I remember times when magnificent Polish artists were underestimated. Therefore it was essential to remind the world about their existence in places where we could go. To my mind, it’s very important for artists, arts and cultural policy of Poland, and we have madness for this, we want to do this.

Also we concentrate on the art of Eastern Europe, the art of states, which are located near Poland: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova. It’s said a lot about the Eastern Partnership, and we try to make it real, to implement it in the community of artists.


Open Place: So, is it exist an internal agreement between the Ministry of Culture and private initiatives, certain agents?

Monika Szewczyk: When I hear “the private initiative”, I don’t associate it with myself, because, to my mind, private and commercial galleries have some specific purpose. Gallery Arsenal is not a private institution, it’s the urban public gallery, and we spend public money. I think we realize what the Ministry expects of us, in such way that we’ve been making exhibitions for the presentation of Polish culture in the world for many years.

Also it’s important to me that art is interested in the Eastern partnership. Poland and Sweden are two countries which have proposed to EU the idea of the Eastern Partnership. The EaP includes six countries from the former Soviet Union: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. I’m convinced that it was a very important decision.


Open Place: What is the role of education in the cultural policy?

Monika Szewczyk: I’m doing a little in the field of the cultural policy… I work in my sphere, and from the experience of running the gallery I’ve understood that it’s impossible to conduct such institution, if it doesn’t have the educational program. We need to work with these aspects simultaneously, we should organize interesting exhibitions and make them “included” in the society, make them conceived by recipients.

Educational program is an important element of the budget and activities of Arsenal Gallery. There are several educational events around each exhibition. It seems that society underestimates, dislikes and doesn’t perceive contemporary art. We must convince the community that in fact it’s for them, it’s their language, which they haven’t known yet. And when they understand this language of contemporary art, they’ll love it, I’m sure.