“Why Don't They Display Male Nudes?”

Nude Photography, Women's Art, and the Redefinition of Socialist Morality in 1970s Poland

in Aspasia
Anna Dobrowolska Max Weber Fellow, European University Institute, Italy

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In the West, the 1970s were the decade of rapid sexual liberalization. Similarly, in state-socialist Poland new approaches toward sex and nudity also gained momentum. Female nudes started being printed in the popular press and displayed in gallery rooms. Simultaneously, early feminist artists such as Natalia LL, Teresa Murak, and Ewa Partum experimented with nudity to question gendered discourses and social norms. This article compares popular nude photography exhibitions with the works of women artists to analyze two approaches toward female nudity that developed in 1970s Poland. Thus, it showcases the ambiguities surrounding the project of socialist sexual modernity and highlights conflicting visions of femininity and liberation.

In the 1970s, Polish society witnessed a notable relaxation of constraints concerning visual representations of naked female bodies in the public sphere. As state authorities embarked on a project of socialist consumerist modernization, new lifestyles and approaches toward morality started receiving more attention in media discourse. Although commercial pornography was still unavailable and largely censored, new frameworks of showcasing naked bodies became increasingly popular. Discussions of pornography and striptease, as well as images of openly erotic female nudes, regularly appeared in magazines, facilitating a general relaxation of attitudes toward female nakedness. Perhaps the most important element of this transformation was Venus, a pioneering and well-attended photographic exhibition of female nudes held annually in Kraków between 1970 and 1991. According to its organizers from the Kraków Photographic Society (Krakowskie Towarzystwo Fotograficzne), Venus offered a socialist response to the “growing vulgarization” of female nudity and a respite from the porn industry that flourished in the capitalist West.1 At the same time, it was also a tool for reforming Polish approaches toward sexuality, warmly welcomed by progressive sexologists, educators, and journalists.2

Yet not everyone perceived Venus as the ultimate force of liberalization and progress. In December 1975, 35-year-old Stanisława stormed the exhibition and poured acid on several photographs, destroying them completely. According to the offender, she was protesting against the objectification of female bodies and the inequalities between men and women that the exhibit perpetuated. “Why don't they display male nudes?” she asked the judge during the court proceedings.3 In her act of protest, Stanisława stressed that since the United Nations had announced 1975 as International Women's Year, she wanted to conclude the celebrations accordingly. “My goal was to protest the injustice, violence, and cunning that men display toward women. I demand an exhibition Apollo 76 to be organized alongside Venus,” she elaborated in the Citizens’ Militia protocol quoted in the magazine Kultura (Culture).4

The press coverage of Stanisława's trial was intensely misogynistic and sexist.5 Notably, the only voices in the media sympathetic to the offender came from two female journalists: Małgorzata Szejnert and Ewa Berberyusz.6 While Szejnert and Berberyusz focused on gender equality and pointed out that Venus catered to bourgeois male tastes and offered little artistic quality, male commentators portrayed Stanisława as a lunatic, conservative fanatic, “suffragist,” or even a dangerous terrorist.7 In this way, the press avoided discussing the uncomfortable truth about Venus—that men were its key audience.

The history of Stanisława's protest offers an excellent departure point from which to analyze the gendered character of discussions on nudity and sexual emancipation in 1970s Poland. In mainstream discourse, women could appear as passive objects of the male gaze, but the organizers of Venus dismissed any suggestions of displaying naked male bodies.8 Similarly, the visual frameworks they adopted left little space for discussing gender equality or women's sexual agency. However, the 1970s also witnessed the emergence of innovative women's art, with young artists such as Natalia LL, Teresa Murak, and Ewa Partum entering the gallery scene. While nudity (often their own) was a powerful artistic tool in their work, its purpose was not to reaffirm existing sexual hierarchies but to criticize and dismantle them. Even if they did not call themselves feminist, their artistic practice profoundly challenged the patriarchal frameworks of representing female bodies. Although their art did not receive as much media attention as the Venus exhibitions, their efforts prove that even under state-socialist censorship there could be competing and contradictory visions of sexual liberation. Still, the modernization of socialist sexualities had very clear boundaries and subversive feminist discourse could not possibly fit into them.

This article juxtaposes two competing approaches toward female nudity in 1970s Poland. It draws on a variety of sources, both archival and published, paying particular attention to the visual discourse. First, the article focuses on the discursive and visual frameworks developed and supported by Venus. By analyzing press coverage of the exhibition, photographs on display, and visitors’ entries in the guestbooks, I highlight dominant interpretations of female nudity and argue that only images conforming to certain, conservative frameworks of representation could be perceived as appropriate and “decent” enough to be exposed. Second, the article looks at the examples of three women artists active in the 1970s and examines their involvement in the debates on women's social position, bodily autonomy, and sexual pleasure. It traces state censorship's reactions to their art through archival sources, highlighting the contentious definitions of indecent images employed by the censors. By contrasting women artists’ works with the dominant frameworks of representation symbolized by Venus, the article argues that their art functioned not only in opposition to morally conservative Polish society, but also as a challenge to the visions of socialist sexual modernity epitomized by the popularity of nude photography.

Crucially, instead of portraying East Central Europe as backward and needing to “catch up” with the Western pornographic industry,9 this article studies the visual culture of 1970s Poland in its own right. It focuses on visual interventions, within both mainstream nude photography and feminist art, that enabled notable redefinitions of socialist morality. Rather than simply romanticizing the socialist past as a time of gender equality, the article addresses problematic frameworks employed within state- socialist visual culture and analyzes their deep embeddedness in the heteropatriarchal understanding of sexual autonomy and pleasure.

Why Has There Been No Feminist Art under State Socialism?

Recent years have seen a notable “boom” in the academic discussions of sexuality under state socialism.10 Challenging Cold War stereotypes, scholars of East Central Europe have argued for more nuanced interpretations of state-socialist entanglements with sex, highlighting the modernizing impact of both state policies and expert discourses.11 As Agnieszka Kościańska's research has demonstrated, 1970s Poland witnessed an unparalleled explosion of public interest in sexology, and experts advocated for a new, modern culture of sexuality in the pages of both advice literature and the popular press.12 These sexological discussions, however, were marked by profound ambiguity and rooted in deeply gendered understandings of desire, as expert discussions of sexual violence showcase very well. Even the most “progressive” sexologists, such as Michalina Wisłocka, blamed victims of rape for “provoking” their assaulters.13 According to Kościańska, it was not until the 1990s that feminist voices became visible in the public debates on rape, suggesting that the sexological discourse of the previous decades had a very limited understanding of women's sexual autonomy and that its projects of sexual modernity were inherently patriarchal.14 As this article explores in greater detail, similar factors shaped the discussions of nude photography in the 1970s.

The role played by visual culture in discussions of sexuality has not received sufficient scholarly attention, at least in the Polish case. As Josie McLellan has analyzed in the case of East Germany, the state-socialist regime authorized nude photography as a domestic alternative to Western-style pornography and thus enabled it to function as an avenue for redefining socialist approaches toward sex.15 In 1960s Czechoslovakia, as Marianna Placáková has demonstrated, experts theorized “socialist nudes” within the Marxist critique of capitalist market exchange, highlighting the difference between socialist nude art and commercialized pornography from the West.16 And in her study of erotic images published in socialist Yugoslavia, Biljana Žikić has argued that only by extending our definition of erotica beyond images usually classified as pornographic can we fully understand socialist discussions over acceptable sexual representations in the public sphere and their impact on the development of visual culture in the region.17

Scholarly debates about the position of women under state socialism have also highlighted ambiguities surrounding the impact of communist modernization on women's emancipation and the gender order in general. While some scholars have claimed that state socialism improved living conditions for many women in the region by including them in the workforce18 and promoting family planning,19 others have argued that the authoritarian state deprived women of their agency and delayed the development of organized feminist movements in the region until after 1989.20

It is therefore necessary to consider the implications of the term “feminist” when used to describe the realities of state-socialist art production. At first sight, this term appears to be inextricably linked to the Western feminist movement and to discussions about women's role in art and society that took place in the 1970s.21 In this sense, there could not have been any “feminist art” under state socialism just as there could be no “feminist movement” either.22 In the eyes of many, it was only after 1989 that the women's movement could emerge and “catch up with the West.”23 Both of these evaluations are, however, based on very Western-centric definitions of feminism and women's liberation that are themselves problematic and contested. As Magdalena Grabowska emphasizes, the actions of socialist women's organizations are often not considered feminist because they contradict the very definition of feminist agency centered around “free will” and “active resistance” to the patriarchal system of oppression and do not mirror Western genealogies of feminist activism.24 Similarly, the works of women artists under state socialism are often portrayed as not “feminist” enough because their theories and actions did not fit into frameworks developed for the art scene in the West or into the chronology and cartography developed to analyze feminist art in the Anglo-Saxon world.25 To complicate the situation further, many of the artists whose works could be interpreted as “feminist” have opposed this title and distanced themselves from feminism and women's art altogether.26 Yet all these ambiguities surrounding the category of “feminist art” do not mean that the term should be abandoned completely, but rather redefined so that we can better respond to the challenges and questions that the historical material poses.

Just as Grabowska traces the genealogies of postsocialist feminist movements to communist women's organizations, challenging the Western frameworks of activism,27 I argue that we can better understand the history of Polish feminist struggles against patriarchy if we pay closer attention to the works of women artists in the 1970s and the broader context in which they functioned. Instead of hopelessly looking for a unified movement of “feminist art,” let us focus on what the artists actually had to say. As this article argues, visions of female nudity presented by women artists stood in stark contrast to the visuals displayed at the Venus exhibitions and published in the popular press. If only indirectly, this suggests that there was a distinct way of portraying naked female bodies by female artists, even if it was not explicitly grounded in feminist theory. Just as scholars of women's movements uncover forgotten areas of women's agency under state socialism,28 historians of art point to various ways in which women's art in state-socialist Poland engaged and interacted with feminism, even if not always directly.29

In her 2018 article, Agata Jakubowska examines the transnational flows of people, ideas, and artworks beyond the Iron Curtain and studies the complicated reception of “Western” feminist ideas among Polish artists. According to Jakubowska, even though feminist art theory texts may not have been directly translated into Polish, they still circulated in other ways, distributed privately in their original language or summarized and cited in magazine articles.30 A good illustration of Jakubowska's argument is Natalia LL's (Natalia Lach-Lachowicz) participation in exhibitions of women's art in Austria and the Netherlands in the 1970s.31 She was not the only female Polish artist who exhibited her works internationally (others included Magdalena Abakanowicz and Maria Pinińska-Bereś), but was one of the very few who attempted to disseminate feminist ideas in her home country. For example, according to Jakubowska, in 1977 Natalia LL wrote a text titled Tendencja feministyczna (Feminist tendencies in the arts), which she read out in galleries in Lublin and Katowice.32 A year later, she organized a small exhibition of feminist art in her home city of Wrocław. The show presented works by herself and women artists from the USA and introduced the audience to the issues discussed in feminist art at the time.33 From this example, we can see how feminist theories could circulate among Polish artists, even if their adoption was ambiguous and not always straightforward. Only by situating these feminist interventions in their broader social and cultural context can we fully understand the discussions of socialist morality that these artists certainly took part in. By comparing them with the visual discourses promoted by the Venus exhibitions, we can observe the process of reframing socialist morality in the 1970s, but also shed light on the gendered boundaries of socialist sexual liberation.

“Unique Appeal and Charm”

The organizers estimated that over six hundred thousand people visited the Venus exhibits in 1970 and 1971 alone.34 Even if the numbers are not exactly trustworthy, the exhibition attracted the attention of the media, provoking fierce debates about socialist morality and the boundaries of acceptable sexual representation.35 By the end of the 1970s, erotic art (epitomized by artistic nudes) became the ultimate symbol of socialist sexual modernization, promoted by prominent sexologists as a form of sexual education and a worthy alternative to pornography.36 What made this triumphant march of erotic art possible? The following section explores the visual frameworks that enabled naked female bodies to enter the public sphere.

To begin with, the Venus exhibition catered to male heterosexual tastes. Male photographers produced most of the displayed works. Similarly, men dominated the organizing committee (the only women mentioned in the press accounts were secretaries and cashiers) and the jury. Not surprisingly, in this context the male gaze was the dominant framework through which photographs could be classified as beautiful and worth displaying. The leading organizer of Venus, Władysław Klimczak, himself explained:

I believe it to be a natural pattern that a young woman in her flowering period, in the rose scent period [w okresie zapachu róży], affects us, men, with her unique appeal and charm. The entire world and the future of the nation depends on this. It has been my intention to stress in the competition's regulation that only the beautiful woman, the woman at her most charming age could be presented, regardless of under which latitude she lives, regardless of her skin color or her religion. I believe this is a noble assumption, not a perversion.37

Accordingly, the criteria of beauty were both inclusive and exclusionary at the same time. In accordance with official propaganda proclamations, the organizers announced that all women of the world could be beautiful and admired. Yet the lines along which this beauty was to be defined and assessed suggested quite the opposite.

First, the analyzed material illustrates that only young women could be perceived as attractive. This definition of youthfulness relied not so much on the age of the models, but rather on their appearances. Women needed to have aesthetically pleasing and slim bodies.38 Youth signified freshness and unspoiled beauty, but also innocence.39 Thus, the proponents of Venus seemed to argue that if models remained unaware of the sexual potential of their bodies, the photographs could be classified as art, not erotica. Perhaps such a focus on young women, “girls” as the media often called them (dziewczyny, dziewczęta), offered a way to escape the accusations of pornography.

Another strategy that allowed the commentators to differentiate between Venus and pornography was the concentration on “natural” and “pristine” bodies. A closer look into the only two photo albums published from the exhibitions allows us to further explore the types of visuals that Venus displayed.40 The wealth of material included in these publications offers a unique glimpse into the visual discourse facilitated by Venus, although one should keep in mind that the albums consist of a selection of pictures and therefore may convey a message slightly different than an analysis of all the photographs presented at the exhibition. While the first volume (1973) consisted only of photographs taken by Polish contestants, the second one (published in 1979, but covering exhibitions from the years 1971–1973) was more international in focus. Moreover, the 1973 album's language was Polish and it was clearly targeted at a domestic and popular audience. In contrast, the 1979 album was bilingual and intended for distribution beyond Poland, mostly among the contestants themselves.

The majority of the photographs in both albums conformed to the “artistic” framework of representing nudity. They rarely portrayed women's bodies in full, and the models usually had their faces covered by hair or light. Even if their faces were recognizable, they did not look straight into the camera, a gesture that would suggest a more intimate and provocative relationship with the photographer and the viewer. In terms of portraying nudity, the photographs were modest even by the standards of the early 1970s. Most of the nudes presented only partial nudity (with some parts of the models’ bodies intentionally covered or obscured). In such cases, the majority of the photos only showed naked female breasts. If the image was taken from the back, the camera's attention focused on naked buttocks. Only very rarely did the photographs show genital areas and they never appeared at the center of the picture. Interestingly, pubic and body hair was not such a taboo as one might expect. Models had visible hair both in their genital areas and in their armpits.

Contrary to the official declarations of the organizers, the exhibition did not portray the “beauty of women of all races.”41 Almost all models were white and only four photographs in the 1979 album presented women of color. Needless to say, the photographers focused solely on female nudes.42 Men appeared only in four images in the 1979 album. In two works by Janusz Przypkowski (“Impresja II” and “Impresja III”) a man is presented hiding behind a naked woman. While her breasts, body, and pubic hair are clearly visible, only his naked legs and arms are visible in the picture. A similar strategy can be seen in the photograph “Portret współczesny” (Modern portrait) by Adam Możdżeń. In this picture, a fully naked woman stands at the center of the picture while a man sits on the floor, visible from his waist up. Finally, the fourth photograph that depicts both a man and a woman is Nikolajs Brivlauks's (USSR) work “Fang.” The image shows a clothed man in sunglasses, carrying a young naked woman out of a lake. Again, the imbalance is striking. While the man is fully clothed, the woman's nakedness stands at the center of the photographer's attention. Clearly, the photographers conceptualized female nudity as something worth looking at and appreciating, while male nudity was just a very rare accessory.

Both the authors and exhibition organizers wanted to avoid accusations of pornography. As the analyzed albums suggest, this preoccupation clearly influenced the visual strategies they employed. Models were rarely photographed indoors, and when they were, the setting was clearly that of an artist's studio. In both albums over one-third of the photographs were shot outdoors (35 percent in 1973 and 38 percent in 1979). The usual settings included natural scenery such as sand dunes, beaches, meadows, fields, and forests. Moreover, many of the photographers clearly experimented with photographic techniques such as grain effects, density of color, and multiplication (over 26 percent of photos in both albums analyzed). As a result, many of the photographs had little in common with classic nudes but were rather a show of the photographers’ technical skills.

The jury assessed the artistic quality of the photographs on a number of criteria closely related to traits commonly perceived as “feminine,” such as tenderness, fragility, and—as I have already discussed—innocence. In 1974, the jurors awarded the Grand Prix to Witold Michalik for his series of photographs contemplating the stages of pregnancy. The president of the jury, Czechoslovak photographer Miroslav Stibor, explained that “many other pictures portray woman as a beautiful creature, but [Michalik's photos] are the only ones that show her role in the life of humankind, they are most humanistic.”43 The jurors seemed to agree that beauty and “humanism” could best be observed when women fulfilled their stereotypical gender roles.

Similar notions appeared in guestbook entries and in the press coverage of the exhibition. The following excerpt from the Dziennik Łódzki (Łódź daily) review of the 1981 exhibit illustrates this aptly:

Modern girls . . . do not have to shout or provoke. We see shots that are beautiful, poetic, in pastel colors and in soft diffused light. Their protagonists read, sew, look through the window with grace and natural charm; they are dreamlike, mysterious, and as pretty as a picture.44

Here two visions of femininity stand in sharp contrast. The new, “modern” model—in which women are independent, outspoken, and sexually assertive—came under fierce criticism. It contrasted with the type of female beauty that Venus represented—nice, charming girls who fulfill conservative ideals about womanhood. They neither voice their opinion (“shout”) nor express their sexuality (“provoke”). Rather, they occupy themselves with stereotypically feminine activities like sewing or simply being “pretty.” Thus, their key role is to satisfy the male viewer. As objects of the male gaze, they have little subjectivity of their own—they are metaphors, symbolizing the “mystery” of womanhood rather than the embodied and subjective experience of being a woman.

The framework of “feminine charm” was deeply engrained in patriarchal and misogynistic assumptions about gender roles. As the Venus exhibitions questioned the taboo surrounding female nudity, a need arose to create new boundaries within which this “modern” approach to sexuality could be performed. The journalists and jurors assigned women the role of passive objects and criteria such as “naturalness,” “charm,” and being “like poetry” further essentialized their role within gendered lines. Sexist language was also very much present in the discussions on photo modeling. Instead of praising young women who decided to pose naked for their courage and openness, photographers and journalists either ignored their role completely (as if it was something natural that women would like to be photographed naked) or portrayed them as naïve and silly.45

The space in which female nudity could be accepted publicly was extremely narrow. Partially, this was due to continuing social taboos and (self-)censorship. But it also had a lot to do with patriarchal frameworks of understanding femininity in general. Although toward the end of the 1970s nudity became increasingly normalized, the visuals still had to conform to patriarchal visions of womanhood. As a result, women could only be portrayed as passive objects of photographers’ attention. Their sexual appeal had to be mitigated by frameworks of representation, for example by presenting only certain parts of the body, highlighting the alleged “innocence” of the models, or setting the photographs in natural landscapes. Finally, the exhibition still excluded naked male bodies from display. The organizers argued that they were not as “attractive” as female bodies,46 which clearly attests that the definition of beauty accepted by both proponents and opponents of the exhibit was profoundly gendered, as was the viewing of the images.47 These factors contributed to misogynistic language but also reaffirmed the assumption that female bodies were to be watched by men, not the other way around. The sexual “modernization” that the new visual language seemed to offer was therefore intensely sexist—women could be “emancipated” only as objects of male desire and only within the boundaries set by the patriarchal structures of society.

“We Demand Male Nudes!”

The frameworks developed by organizers to legitimize nudity certainly affected the ways in which visitors of both sexes engaged with the exhibition. A closer look into the comments in the exhibition guestbooks offers a unique chance to better understand the ways in which people made sense of the exhibit and how their evaluations varied depending on their gender and social position. Although the original guestbooks have most likely not survived, we can reconstruct some of the entries based on their reprints in one of the exhibition albums, as well as press publications that quoted the contents of the guestbooks.48 When analyzing the entries, one should bear in mind that guestbooks do not provide a representative selection of visitors’ responses and reactions. First, the album offers only a selection of the pages with visitors’ comments and thus can bias our reading of them. Moreover, guestbooks generally tended to favor extreme views and we may assume that people who did not feel moved by what they had seen were significantly less likely to leave a comment upon exiting the gallery. Rather, the guestbooks convey varied (but not comprehensive) interpretative frameworks through which the exhibition contents can be understood. As sometimes the comments interact directly with each other, one can also catch a glimpse of what kind of opinions resonated with the wider public.

Certainly, one of the topics that visitors most frequently pondered was whether Venus was a pornographic exhibition. The answer to that question proved to be far from straightforward. Some authors of guestbook entries actually expressed their disappointment with the too-shy character of the display. For example, Andrzej complained about the quality of photographs exhibited at Venus. “The ticket costs as much as a ticket to a pornographic exhibition, but it doesn't offer even that,”49 he wrote. His comment must have resonated with other visitors because someone else added “That's right” on the margin of Andrzej's entry.

Not all visitors agreed with this assessment. A significant number of comments implied that the nudity presented by Venus was either pornographic or paving the way for pornography in the future. One of the entries questioned the purpose of displaying “naked buttocks” (gołe tyłki) as if there was no other way to experiment with photographic techniques. “In fact”—the author asked—“who was this exhibition organized for?” The response in the margin hinted, “for perverts.”50 Another entry made a clear reference to the sex fair that opened in Copenhagen in 1969: “If we allow it any longer, our country will also witness sex fairs, where we would sell not only photos, but also live wares [żywy towar].”51 Similar moral panic was also clearly noticeable in a comment made by a female teacher who expressed her indignation with the promotion of pornographic images, which “encourage the lowest instincts” and lead to prostitution, venereal diseases, and mass rapes.52 One of the other visitors ridiculed her entry with the comment “Boy, she's got quite an imagination!!!”

But many visitors accepted the artistic framework and enjoyed the aesthetics proposed by the photographers, treating it as an interesting alternative to Western-style pornography. The following quotation illustrates this approach quite well:

It is a pleasure to visit “Venus 70” after returning straight from Denmark. Here you can find no pornography . . . no photography of meat. It may sound surprising to some people, but when you encounter pornography and lewdness daily . . . then “Venus 70” is an example of art and good taste. Similar exhibitions should be organized regularly, then maybe the prudery would disappear, as now we still have a lot of it.53

The acceptance of Venus as art intertwined strongly with awareness of the forms in which naked bodies functioned abroad, particularly in the West. Traveling between the two blocs was not common at the time (though the situation changed noticeably when Edward Gierek assumed power in December 1970), but we clearly observe that people acquainted with Western “pornography” were more likely to accept the visions of nudity offered by Venus.

What is striking about these guestbook entries is how the evaluation of the exhibit differed based on the (self-declared) gender of the spectator. Men generally displayed more enthusiasm about Venus while women voiced their criticism or distance. A woman interviewed by the Polish Newsreel in 1971 said: “I have to tell you that I absolutely do not like this exhibition. I think that seven-eighths of what I have seen is just perversion.”54 Perhaps such an evaluation had something to do with the fact that the exhibition only displayed female nudes. For example, a group of self-identified “thrifty” Cracovians (“Krakowianki”—the female noun form implies they were women) put forward an idea to reduce ticket prices for women by a half because “men have two times bigger satisfaction from seeing the exhibit than women,” openly addressing the question of the exhibition's erotic appeal and of the gender inequalities it affirmed. “Łodzianki” (female inhabitants of Łódź) seconded this motion in the guestbook's margin.55 Another female visitor, “Gaga,” commented: “We demand male nudes! We want to be aroused as well!”56 An entry signed simply “Women” even enquired when an exhibition of male nudes would be organized. Notably, another guest (presumably male) replied to this comment by writing “never,” accusing women of petty jealousy.57

Even if the organizers rejected the accusations of catering to male erotic desires by invoking the framework of universal beauty and the artistic qualities of the photographs, guestbook entries made by male visitors suggested quite the opposite. Despite the organizers’ declarations, socialist nudes titillated the viewers. In their comments, men expressed admiration for the bodies displayed at Venus. “Very titillating,” emphasized Adam, for example.58 Another author voiced his satisfaction with the open presentation of nudity: “finally one does not have to peep at this type of things through a keyhole.”59 Others explicitly compared the models’ bodies with their own sexual encounters and assessed their value. Some were impressed by the beauty of the models and wrote that they no longer feared getting married.60 However, there were also visitors who did not perceive the bodies displayed in Venus to be attractive enough. In rather obnoxious words they commented on the size of breasts presented in the photos, as well as about how “stupid and wicked” (głupie i podłe) the women were who agreed to be photographed like this.61 As one of the visitors summed up: “The exhibition is very beautiful, but not very sexy, I have kicked better ones out of my bed.”62

Male desire did not necessarily need to be expressed by an individual. As many of the comments suggest, visiting Venus offered a way for men to bond with their peers. Students from the Warsaw University of Technology (still very much a male-dominated school) expressed their satisfaction with the exhibition contents and proposed to move it from Kraków to Warsaw.63 Another guest complained that Venus only partially catered to his taste and stressed that his opinion should be taken into account because he was the first sailor to visit the exhibition (implying that other sailors, renowned experts in assessing the quality of women's bodies, would hold similar views).64 Students from the Citizens’ Militia School in Wrocław and soldiers signed other entries. One of the latter group, Krzysztof, wrote: “Please organize a traveling exhibition for us [soldiers] because they don't want to give us passes to see it. After a year of military service, I enjoyed this exhibition very much; if it is possible, I will come again with my squad.”65

Heterosexual desires were thus not only to be experienced by men individually, but above all defined and reaffirmed within their homosocial communities. Men could perform their masculinity through voyeurism and symbolic power over female bodies. What was unique about Venus was the extent to which these performances took place in the public sphere and thus challenged the boundaries of acceptable sexual representation. In this sense, Venus certainly offered a new discourse on sexuality, but such discussions still conformed to the traditional patriarchal framework. As a result, the discourse excluded and silenced women's experiences. Women's bodies were watched and assessed, but, as we have seen in Stanisława's case and in the guestbook comments, women's voices were ridiculed and ignored.

Female Intimacy on Display

Men created Venus for other men to appreciate. Thus, its main focus was on female beauty and sexual attractiveness as seen through the lens of male heterosexual desires. But what if women could take charge of the camera? How would the interpretation of nakedness change? And what would it tell us about the social understanding of nudity and sexuality? To answer such questions, this article analyzes some aspects of the history of feminist art in 1970s Poland.66

It would be a mistake to limit our understanding of feminist art only to works that explicitly deal with the topics of sexuality and naked bodies. There are many other lenses through which women's art in state-socialist Poland can be analyzed, but my goal here is different.67 I focus on female artists’ approaches to nudity to show how differently it could be conceptualized in the same historical context. Thus, I want to argue that the “sexual liberation” symbolized by the Venus exhibitions was not the only path available, and indeed, the fact that it influenced the mainstream culture to such an extent tells us a lot about spheres of emancipation that were (not) open for women in the 1970s.

One of the early attempts to discuss female sexuality in art was Natalia LL's 1969 Strefa intymna (Intimate sphere).68 This collage of photographs depicts a heterosexual couple having sex on white sheets. The artist does not try to conceal or mitigate the erotic character of this encounter. Such an approach to matters of sex in the visual arts was already quite innovative at the time. However, what is particularly striking about the image is the active role assumed by the woman. As Jakubowska observes, contrary to the dominant European frameworks of representation, the woman is portrayed as an active participant in sexual intercourse, not simply an object of male desire.69 According to her, Intimate Sphere is a call for equal access to sexual fulfillment, but also a challenge issued to a patriarchal society that saw women only as passive objects of men's actions.70

The issue of women's (in)activity returns in other works by Natalia LL, notably one of her most renowned series, Sztuka konsumpcyjna (Consumer art) (1972–1975).71 Often ahistorically interpreted as simply a critique of consumerist society, the series of photographs and videoclips picture women eating bananas, pudding, and sausages.72 All the consumed products have clear phallic connotations and closely resemble frameworks of representation characteristic of erotic imagery. Bananas and sausages symbolize penises, while the pudding simulates sperm swallowed after oral sex. The models are blond, attractive, and clearly enjoying themselves. They look straight into the camera and provoke the viewer. One could hardly think of images more contradictory of the nudes displayed at the Venus exhibitions. Not only can they be interpreted as overtly erotic, but they first and foremost pose a challenge to the dominance of the male viewer so characteristic for patriarchal frameworks of representation. Natalia LL subverts this relationship, putting the female protagonist and her satisfaction at the center of the picture as well as addressing the male fear of castration by her concentration on the consumption of phallic objects.73 By clearly referring to the frameworks of pornographic representation, Natalia LL also challenges the boundaries of acceptable erotic art of the early 1970s.74

Teresa Murak's performances also took up the topic of female bodies in relation to patriarchal social structures. Already in the 1970s, Murak experimented with body art, sowing garden cress seeds on herself or on models’ bodies. Thus, her art can be interpreted as an early example of ecofeminism in the Polish context, even if Murak did not make direct references to feminist theory. As Anka Leśniak argues, Murak's performances expressed her longing for “the primordial order of mother nature, when the woman was a goddess, a birth giver.”75 In her art, she focused on redefining typically feminine traits such as fertility and tenderness in favor of women's power and agency. However, Murak's art is worth mentioning here not only for its possible feminist interpretations, but because the use of nudity in her performances attracted the attention of the Censorship Office (Główny Urząd Kontroli Prasy, Publikacji i Widowisk, henceforth GUKPPiW). In March 1976 GUKPPiW suspended the catalogue of Murak's exhibition Zasiew 31—kalendarz kobiety (Sowing 31—calendar of a woman), organized at the Labirynt Gallery in Lublin.76 The censors challenged the publication on “moral grounds” and, as the photographs attached to the report suggest, their main objection was the nakedness of the model.77

This is one of the very rare documented examples of direct censorship motivated by “moral objections,” especially regarding visual material.78 Thus, it is impossible to draw any definite conclusions from this one instance about the character of moral censorship in 1970s Poland. We can, however, hypothesize about the reasons that Murak's catalogue attracted the attention of the censors. At first sight, one may assume that it was simply the controversies surrounding female nudity. Yet, if we consider that by March 1976 six editions of Venus had already taken place and many popular magazines regularly published female nudes, the situation becomes more complicated. The problem with Murak's performance, therefore, rested not in the use of nudity itself, but rather in the interpretation of the naked female body that she proposed. Her concentration on primaeval matriarchy and subversion of patriarchal structures of representation were much more politically dangerous than simply showing some “naked ladies” in the popular press. While nude photography such as Venus helped to appease public emotions and legitimize the communist regime as modern and progressive, artists such as Murak attacked the very foundation of the state—the patriarchy.

For women artists, nudity was therefore a tool for speaking about women's position in society. The social perception of the female body was one of the recurring motifs in the work of Ewa Partum in the 1970s.79 In her 1974 performance, Zmiana: Mój problem jest problemem kobiety (Change: My problem is a problem of a woman), a professional makeup artist intentionally aged half of Partum's face to resemble the face of an old woman.80 In 1979, she repeated the performance in Łódź, this time appearing fully naked with half of her body transformed to look old.81 In the performance, Partum explored the limits of women's participation in cultural and social life and protested against the objectification of female bodies.82 Again, Partum's use of nudity stood in stark contrast to the visual language of nude photography exhibited at Venus. Instead of presenting an aesthetically pleasing silhouette, she intentionally obscured her attractiveness. Rather than conforming to the beauty frameworks concentrating on young bodies, she explored the aging processes and their impact on women's social role. Most importantly, Partum worked with her own body, rebelling against male objectification of women's (models’) bodies. This in itself was an artistic statement of women's agency and independence, contrasted with the passivity and anonymity of models posing for mainstream nude photographs.

The issues of self-identification and artistic identity were central to Partum's work of that period. In 1980, her exhibition Samoidentyfikacja (Self-identification) opened in a Warsaw gallery. It consisted of a number of photomontages in which the artist inserted her naked figure into pictures of public spaces in Warsaw (such as shops, streets, and pedestrian crossings).83 During the opening night, Partum appeared naked and presented a manifesto in which she claimed that feminist art offered a path toward self- realization for women.84 She also criticized patriarchal culture and the gender roles it imposed for “impairing women.”85 According to Ewa Majewska, it was around the same time that Partum made the decision always to perform naked. She protested against the invisibility of women artists “since there was no place for women in art and art history except as a model or as an artist's wife.”86 One can hardly think of a more accurate criticism of male-centered art and exhibitions such as Venus in particular.

The criticism appears even more spot-on if we consider that Partum's exhibition catalogue could not be printed in 1980 because of the opposition it faced from the GUKPPiW. Similarly to Teresa Murak's catalogue of 1976, the censors objected not only to the nudity portrayed in Partum's works, but also to the artist's commentary on the photographs. In the introduction to the catalogue, Partum highlighted that the dominant morality sanctioned women's social subordination and constrained their dignity, freedom, and spiritual autonomy.87 By quoting this particular excerpt from the catalogue in the summary of their interventions, the censors emphasized that the main reason for their decision was the feminist message behind Partum's works. Once again, explicit nudity did not pose a problem as long as it did not destabilize the patriarchal system or challenge the authorities’ alleged commitment to gender equality. Naked female bodies could be allowed into the public sphere, as long as they did not attempt to voice their own views.


Early feminist artists used nudity and erotic codes to make statements about the social position of women and to challenge the boundaries between private and public. Yet it is a misunderstanding to interpret their use of naked bodies as simply a challenge issued to prudish sexual norms.88 Such interpretations not only portray East Central Europe as essentially backward, but also ignore the wealth and complexity of discussions of sexuality that occurred during the 1970s. Nudity in the works of feminist artists not only challenged social taboos surrounding naked bodies, but above all critiqued the male gaze.

Here, I have offered a complementary interpretation of the potential political message articulated by Polish women artists in the 1970s. This is not to say that they did not protest against patriarchal structures and restrictive norms regulating female behavior. Rather, I argue that they opposed not only sexual conservatism, but also the mainstream visions of sexual modernization that events such as Venus promoted. Of course, for some, sex was still a taboo, but one cannot ignore the important political and social forces that contributed to more open discussions of sexuality in that decade. The 1970s experienced an unprecedented scale of debates on the topic, with expert knowledge on sexology being distributed through advice books and columns in popular magazines.89 Popular culture also observed more relaxed attitudes toward nudity and sex and the first openly erotic scenes made it onto the theater screens.90 Exhibitions of nude photography such as Venus contributed to the relaxation of taboos surrounding female nudity, but also facilitated more open discussions on sex in general. Therefore, one can hardly claim that Polish society of the 1970s was trapped in moral conservatism. Rather, the new socialist sexual morality emerged precisely at that time.

Nudity in the works of Lach-Lachowicz, Partum, and Murak was, therefore, an intervention into the new discourse on female sexuality that attempted to offer an alternative to the language that mainstream projects such as Venus promoted. Paweł Leszkowicz goes so far as to argue that these protofeminist artistic performances could be interpreted as a response to the proliferation of female nudes both in popular culture and in neo-avant-garde art.91 Whether they should be viewed as a direct or indirect polemic with this new type of visual is still to be decided. What emerges clearly from this discussion is that women artists developed their own ways of approaching female sexuality in the 1970s. Their art portrayed women as self-reliant agents and their bodies as independent works of art, not merely objects of the male gaze.

The challenge issued to patriarchal norms was not simply a critique of sexual taboos, but also an opposition to the visions of socialist sexual “modernity” that excluded and silenced women. This protofeminist language, however, remained a niche phenomenon and did not substantially influence the misogynist frameworks of discussing female nudity in the late state-socialist period.92 Male heterosexual desires shaped the liberalization of sexual mores in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s so profoundly that there was little space for women to speak about their own sexual needs and experiences. In many ways, this power imbalance in the discussions of morality and sexual expression continues to affect Polish debates on female sexuality.


This article is a revised version of a DPhil chapter defended at the University of Oxford in November 2021 (“Sex, Communism, and Videotapes: Polish Sexual (R)evolutions, 1956–1989” (DPhil thesis, University of Oxford, 2021)) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Parts of this research have been financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Poland in the “Diamentowy Grant” scheme (research funding for the years 2017–2021). I was able to finish writing the article during my stay as a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.



Andrzej Głowacz and Leszek Jesionkowski, eds., Trzy lata międzynarodowych salonów Venus: 1971–1973 [Three years of international Venus exhibitions: 1971–1973] (Kraków: Krakowskie Towarzystwo Fotograficzne, 1979), 39.


Warsaw, Archiwum Akt Nowych [Archive of modern records] (henceforth AAN), Telewizja Polska S.A. Zbiór wycinków prasowych [Press clippings of the Polish television] (henceforth TVP), 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Juliusz Garztecki, “Wenus 70: Rodzaj skandalu?” [Venus 70: A kind of scandal?] Panorama Północy, 23 August 1970. See also Mikołaj Kozakiewicz, “Wstęp” [Introduction], in Akt: Abum Fotograficzny [The nude: A photographic album], ed. Anna Gogut (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1984), 5–11, here 10.


Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Marian M. Słomczyński, “Czy pancerne płyty i strażnik z karabinem uchronią najpiękniejsze akty?” [Will the most beautiful nudes be saved by armored plates and an armed guard?], Kurier Polski, 21 April 1978.


Ewa Berberyusz, “S.O.S. dla Venus: Sytuacje krytyczne” [S.O.S. for Venus: Critical situations], Kultura, 16 May 1976, 9.


See Brunon Rajca, “Malowanie okien” [Windows’ painting], Życie Literackie [Literary life], 6 June 1976, 20; Olgierd Terlecki, “Pomyśleć nie zaszkodzi” [It doesn't harm to think], Życie Literackie, 13 June 1976, 16.


Małgorzata Szejnert, “Venus w zajzajerze” [Venus in acid], Literatura, 27 May 1976, 13; Berberyusz, “S.O.S. dla Venus.”


Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Eugeniusz Iwanicki, “Trwa wojna o ‘Venus’” [The war on “Venus” continues], Odgłosy [Echoes], 2 December 1979.


Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, [J. R.], “Krakowska Wenus” [Venus of Kraków], Panorama Północy [Northern panorama], 2 March 1980.


See Gert Hekma and Alain Giami, “Sexual Revolutions: An Introduction,” in Sexual Revolutions, ed. Gert Hekma and Alain Giami (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 1–24, here 9.


The title of this section is a reference to Linda Nochlin's seminal essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists” from 1971. I would like to thank Wiktoria Szczupacka for a thought-provoking conversation on this topic.


Kristen Ghodsee and Kateřina Lisková, “Bumbling Idiots or Evil Masterminds? Challenging Cold War Stereotypes about Women, Sexuality and State Socialism,” Filozofija i Drustvo [Philosophy and society] 27, no. 3 (2016), 489–503, https://doi.org/10.2298/fid1603489g.


Agnieszka Kościańska, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence: The Construction of Expert Knowledge of Sexuality in Poland, trans. Marta Rozmysłowicz (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2020).


Renata Ingbrant, “Michalina Wisłocka's The Art of Loving and the Legacy of Polish Sexology,” Sexuality and Culture 24, no. 2 (2020), 371–388, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-019-09696-2.


Agnieszka Kościańska, “Gender on Trial: Changes in Legal and Discursive Practices Concerning Sexual Violence in Poland from the 1970s to the Present,” Ethnologia Europaea [European ethnology] 50, no. 1 (13 August 2020), 111–127, https://doi.org/10.16995/ee.1740.


Josie McLellan, “Visual Dangers and Delights: Nude Photography in East Germany,” Past and Present 205, no. 1 (2009), 143–174, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtp040.


Marianna Placáková, “The Socialist Nude: Marxism and Photographic Theory in the 1960s,” Notebook for Art, Theory and Related Zones 29 (2020), 1–31.


Biljana Žikić, “Dissidents Liked Pretty Girls: Nudity, Pornography and Quality Press in Socialism,” Medijska Istrazivanja [Media research] 16, no. 1 (2010), 53–71.


Małgorzata Fidelis, Women, Communism, and Industrialization in Postwar Poland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).


Kateřina Lišková, Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style: Communist Czechoslovakia and the Science of Desire, 1945–1989 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018); Sylwia Kuźma- Markowska and Agata Ignaciuk, “Family Planning Advice in State-Socialist Poland, 1950s–80s: Local and Transnational Exchanges,” Medical History 64, no. 2 (2020), 240–266, https://doi.org/10.1017/mdh.2020.5.


Nanette Funk, “A Very Tangled Knot: Official State Socialist Women's Organizations, Women's Agency and Feminism in Eastern European State Socialism,” European Journal of Women's Studies 21, no. 4 (2014), 344–360, https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506814539929.


See Martina Pachmanová, “From Within, From Without: Configurations of Feminism, Gender and Art in Post-Wall Europe,” in A Companion to Feminist Art, ed. Hilary Robinson and Maria Elena Buszek (Newark: John Wiley, 2019), 111–126.


“Natalia LL said that there was no feminist art in Poland in that time. There were single artists who were interested in these issues, but the feminist movement was impossible, because it was foremost a social movement, and that was possible only in the democratic states.” Anka Leśniak, “Action Art as a Way of Emancipation: Women's Performance Art Practices in the Context of the Totalitarian Regime Based on Communist Ideology and the Young Democracy in Poland,” Sztuka i Dokumentacja [Art and documentation] 22 (2020), 103–119, here 104. See also Agata Jakubowska, “W stronę rewizjonistycznej historii sztuki feministycznej w Polsce” [Towards a revisionist feminist art history in Poland], Rocznik Historii Sztuki [Art history yearbook] 47 (2022), 145–161, https://doi.org/10.24425/rhs.2022.142502.


Magdalena Grabowska, “Bringing the Second World In: Conservative Revolution(s), Socialist Legacies, and Transnational Silences in the Trajectories of Polish Feminism,” Signs 37, no. 2 (2012), 385–411.


Magdalena Grabowska, “Bits of Freedom: Demystifying Women's Activism under State Socialism in Poland and Georgia,” Feminist Studies 43, no. 1 (2017), 141–168, here 142. See also Funk, “A Very Tangled Knot.”


See Agata Jakubowska, “The Circulation of Feminist Ideas in Communist Poland,” in Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present, ed. B. Hock and A. Allas (London: Routledge, 2018), 135–148, here 136.


On the complicated relationship of Natalia LL with feminism, see Agata Jakubowska, “The Attractive Banality of Natalia LL's ‘Consumer Art’ (1972–1975),” Nordlit 21 (2007), 241–248.


Magdalena Grabowska, Zerwana genealogia, Działalność społeczna i polityczna kobiet po 1945 roku a współczesny polski ruch kobiecy [Broken Genealogy: Women's social and political activism post-1945 and the contemporary women's movement in Poland] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, 2018), 285–291.


Grabowska, “Bits of Freedom,” 143–144.


Susanne Altman, “Feminist Art in Poland—Between Censorship and Activism,” Signs 33, no. 2 (2008), 413–418.


Jakubowska, “The Circulation of Feminist Ideas,” 137.


Ibid., 137–139.


The same year, philosopher Stefan Morawski published his article on feminist art in the bimonthly Sztuka [Art]. See Stefan Morawski, “Neofeminizm w sztuce” [Neofeminism in art], Sztuka 4 (1977), 57–63.


Jakubowska, “The Circulation of Feminist Ideas,” 139–140.


Głowacz and Jesionkowski, Trzy Lata, 43.


Anna Dobrowolska, “Akt kobiecy i rewolucja seksualna w dekadzie Gierka: Historia wystaw ‘Venus’ na tle przemian obyczajowych w PRL” [The female nude and the Polish sexual revolution under Gierek: The impact of “Venus” exhibitions on the transformation of sexual mores in state-socialist Poland], Kultura i Społeczeństwo [Culture and society] 65, no. 4 (2021), 139–156, https://doi.org/10.35757/KiS.2021.65.4.7.


Agnieszka Kościańska, To See a Moose: The History of Polish Sex Education, trans. Philip Palmer (New York: Berghahn, 2021), 157–160.


Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Andrzej Zawaniecki, “Prawda jest naga, rozmowa z Władysławem Klimczakiem” [The truth is naked: Interview with Władysław Klimczak], Tygodnik Kulturalny [Cultural weekly], 18 November 1979.


[J. R.], “Krakowska Wenus.”


Garztecki, “Wenus 70.”


Anna Gogut, ed., Wenus Polska [Polish Venus] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1973); Głowacz and Jesionkowski, Trzy lata.


[J. R.], “Krakowska Wenus.”


Paweł Leszkowicz argues that the socialist nude was a female nude, and that male naked bodies were intentionally obscured in the art of that period. Paweł Leszkowicz, Nagi mężczyzna: Akt męski w sztuce polskiej po 1945 roku [Naked man: The male nude in post-1945 Polish art] (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza, 2012), 109.


Quoted in Juliusz Garztecki, “Venus dziś, Venus jutro” [Venus today, Venus tomorrow], Perspektywy [Perspectives], 12 July 1974, 30.


Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Rita Gołębiewska, “Krakowska ‘Wenus’ wyskromniała” [The Venus of Kraków has become more modest], Dziennik Łódzki [Łódź daily], 3–4 April 1982.


Garztecki, quoted in Bywalec, “Sztuka i seks” [Art and sex], Polityka [Politics], 12 February 1972, 12. See also Witold Jurzyk, “Rozbieranka” [Striptease], Foto [Photo] 9 (1985), 244.


[J. R.], “Krakowska Wenus.”


See Beth A. Eck, “Men Are Much Harder: Gendered Viewing of Nude Images,” Gender and Society 17, no. 5 (2003), 691–710, https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243203255604.


The lack of archival materials from the exhibitions can be explained by the ongoing conflict between the late Władysław Klimczak (and now his descendants) and the Museum of Photography in Kraków. See Krzysztof Jakubowski, “Jasna strona ‘Venus’” [Bright side of Venus], Kraków: Miesiecznik Społeczno-Kulturalny [Kraków: Social and cultural monthly] 7–8 (2020), 12–18, here 18.


Gogut, Wenus Polska (no pagination).




“Handel żywym towarem” (Trade in live wares/stock) is the Polish term for human trafficking, to some extent similar to the nineteenth-century English phrase “white slavery.” Quoted in Andrzej Zachuta, “Pornografia czy sztuka” [Pornography or art], Gazeta Sądowa i Penitencjarna [Judicial and penitentiary newspaper], 1 March 1972, 10.


Gogut, Wenus Polska.


Quoted in Zachuta, “Pornografia czy sztuka.”


PKF, 06b/72, “Venus—71,” video, 10:14, uploaded 16 July 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l221aczT_sE.


Gogut, Wenus Polska.








Zachuta, “Pornografia czy sztuka.”


Gogut, Wenus Polska.




Warsaw, AAN, TVP, 2/2514/0/-/26/1128, Eugeniusz Iwanicki, “Z gołą Venus na śniegu” [With a naked Venus on snow], Odgłosy, 31 January 1987.


Gogut, Wenus Polska.






Women artists were not the only ones to explore possibilities for other visual language on nudity and sexuality. One should mention here the works of amateur film clubs, a grassroots movement of alternative film enthusiasts. See Margarete Wach, “Qualität(en) des Laien-Blicks: Amateurfilmklubs in Polen, 1953–1989” [Quality(s) of the layman's view: Amateur film clubs in Poland, 1953–1989], Cinema 64 (2019), 94–108.


On other issues taken up by women artists at that time see Agata Jakubowska, “Meetings: Exhibitions of Women's Art Curated by Izabella Gustowska,” Ikonotheka [Iconotheca] 26 (2016), 291–311, https://doi.org/10.5604/01.3001.0010.1743; Dagmara Rode, “Women's Experimental Filmmaking in Poland in the 1970s and Early 1980s,” Baltic Screen Media Review 3 (2015), 30–43.


“Natalia LL, Twórczość: Lata 60.,” https://nataliall.com/pl/lata-60-te/ (accessed 19 January 2021).


Agata Jakubowska, “Kobieta wobec seksualności—Podporządkowana, uwikłana czy wyzwolona?” [A woman and sexuality: Subordinated, entangled, or emancipated?], Artium Quaestiones [Questions of art] 8 (1997), 113–134, here 116.


Ibid., 115.


Polish Performance Archive, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (henceforth PPA, MoMA Warsaw), “Natalia LL, Sztuka konsumpcyjna, 1972, 1974, 1975” [Natalia LL, Consumer art, 1972, 1974, 1975], https://artmuseum.pl/pl/filmoteka/praca/ll-natalia-sztuka-konsumpcyjna (accessed 19 January 2021).


Jakubowska, “The Attractive Banality,” 241–248.


Jakubowska, “Kobieta wobec seksualności,” 123–126.


Leszkowicz, Nagi mężczyzna, 112.


Leśniak, “Action Art,” 108.


Warsaw, AAN, Główny Urząd Kontroli Prasy, Publikacji i Widowisk w Warszawie (henceforth GUKPPiW) [Main Censorship Office], 2/1102/0/7.2.3/3445, Informacja nr 67 o bieżących ingerencjach [Information no. 67 on the latest interventions], Warsaw, 23 March 1976, 80.


Ibid., 84.


I would like to express my gratitude to Konrad Knoch, without whom I would not have been able to locate this file in the Archive of Modern Records in Warsaw. More extensive studies have so far been conducted on the censorship of literature and press publications. See Kamila Budrowska, “Cenzura, tabu i wstyd: Cenzura obyczajowa PRL-u (1948–1958)” [Censorship, taboo, and shame: Moral censorship in Poland (1948–1958)], Napis Pismo poświęcone literaturze okolicznościowej i użytkowej [Writing: Journal on occasional and applied literature] 18 (2012), 229–244, https://doi.org/10.18318/napis.2012.1.15; Mateusz Świstak, “Niepolityczne tabu PRL, czyli o cenzurze obyczajowej lat 80” [Apolitical taboo of state-socialist Poland: On moral censorship in the 1980s], in Przeskoczyć tę studnię strachu: Autor i dzieło a cenzura PRL [To jump over this well of fear: Author and work against censorship in state-socialist Poland], ed. Ewa Skorupa (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, 2010), 115–131.


On Ewa Partum, see Karolina Majewska-Güde, Ewa Partum's Artistic Practice: An Atlas of Continuity in Different Locations (Bielefeld: transcript, 2021).


Jakubowska, “The Circulation of Feminist Ideas,” 141.


PPA, MoMA Warsaw, “Ewa Partum, Zmiana: Mój problem jest problemem kobiety, 1979” [Ewa Partum, Change: My problem is a problem of a woman, 1979], https://artmuseum.pl/pl/archiwum/archiwum-polskiego-performansu/2516/126965 (accessed 19 January 2021).


Ewa Majewska, “Feminist Art of Failure, Ewa Partum and the Avant-Garde of the Weak,” Widok: Teorie i Praktyki Kultury Wizualnej [View: Theories and practices of visual culture] 16 (2016), 1–28, here 10.


PPA, MoMA Warsaw, “Ewa Partum, Samoidentyfikacja, 1980” [Ewa Partum, Self- identification, 1980], https://artmuseum.pl/pl/archiwum/archiwum-polskiego-performansu/2521/127178 (accessed 19 January 2021).


Jakubowska, “The Circulation of Feminist Ideas in Communist Poland,” 135.


PPA, MoMA Warsaw, “Ewa Partum, Samoidentyfikacja, 1980.”


Majewska, “Feminist Art of Failure,” 4.


Warsaw, AAN, GUKPPiW, 2/1102/0/7.3.3/3650, Informacja nr 99 o bieżących ingerencjach [Information no. 99 on the latest interventions], Warsaw, 5 May 1980, 40.


For such interpretations, see for example Leśniak, “Action Art,” 107.


Kościańska, Gender, Pleasure, and Violence.


Piotr Zwierzchowski, “Oswajanie tabu seksualnego w kinie PRL” [Domesticating the sexual taboo in state-socialist cinema], Przegląd Historyczny [Historical review] 109, no. 2 (2018), 225–237.


Leszkowicz, Nagi mężczyzna, 126–128.


See Karol Jachymek, “A Train to Hollywood : Porno-Chic in the Polish Cinema of the Late 1980s,” European Journal of American Studies 13, no. 3 (2018), 1–10; Ewa Stusińska, Miła robótka: Polskie świerszczyki, harlekiny i porno z satelity [Nice job: Polish porn magazines, harlequins, and satellite porn] (Wołowiec: Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2021).

Contributor Notes

Anna Dobrowolska is Max Weber Fellow in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence and a Visiting Fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva. She holds a DPhil in History from the University of Oxford and her research is focused on the history of sexuality, visual culture, and gender under state socialism. Her first monograph, Zawodowe dziewczyny: Prostytucja i praca seksualna w PRL [Professional girls: Prostitution and sex work in state-socialist Poland] (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2020), explored the history of commercial sex in Poland between 1945 and 1989. ORCID: 0000-0002-2312-8010.

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The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History