Alina Szapocznikow  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Alina Szapocznikow (sometimes called Szaposznikow) (1926-1973) was a Polish sculptor.

As a Jew, she was imprisoned in the Pabianice and Łódź ghettos and in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camps. She was the wife of Polish graphic designer Roman Cieślewicz. She produced casts of her body and later of her son's body.

Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow was born in Kalisz in 1926 to a Jewish medical family. Growing up in occupied Poland during World War II, Szapocznikow spent most of her adolescent years between Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. During the early stages of the war Szapocznikow worked as a nurse in Jewish settlements Pabianice and Lodz, where she endured the premature death of her father from tuberculosis in 1938. When the ghettos were liquidated in May 1942, Szapocznikow along with her Mother, a paediatrician, was sent to concentration camps including Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Teresin.

At the age of 20, having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, Szapocznikow started training as a sculptor in Otokar Velimski's studio in Prague. In 1947 she studied at the Artistic Industrial College under the tutelage of Josef Wagner, after which she attended Paul Niclausse's atelier at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The artist was exposed to and inspired by the works of Jean Arp, Ossip Zadkine and Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. Two years later she met her husband Ryszard Stanislawski a Polish art historian and the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Lodz. In 1951 Szapocznikow was diagnosed with tuberculosis and returned to Poland where she adopted a son and participated extensively in the Polish artistic life. The artist took part in numerous competitions to create public monuments to Chopin, Polish-Soviet friendship, Warsaw heroes, the victims of Auschwitz and Juliusz Slowacki, a Polish Romantic poet. In 1962 Szapocznikow was offered a solo show in the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The following year she moved to Paris where she became friends with the art critic and founder of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, Pierre Restany. Back in Paris, Szapocznikow started to produce casts of her breasts, stomach and legs.

Working mainly in bronze and stone, Szapocznikow's early artistic production constitutes the first materially documented trace of her own embodiment. In 1963, the artist began to combine fragmented body parts with revolutionary sculpting materials including polyester and polyurethane. Such technical innovation allowed Szapocznikow to immortalize a personal language informed by her exposure to death in childhood, traumatic memories of the Holocaust, as well as witnessing the premature collapse of her own body due to tuberculosis. In 1968 the artist was diagnosed with breast cancer. That same year Szapocznikow started making her 'tumour' sculptures using resin, gauze, crumpled newspapers and photographs. Through casts of the human body, the artist intended to preserve the impermanence of the body as a source of pain, trauma and truth.

A Holocaust survivor, a Jewish woman with a history of sickness tattooed on her body and deprived of any prospects of maternity, Szapocznikow's biography is integral to understanding her artistic achievement. This use of personal pain resembles other female artists such as Eva Hesse and Frida Kahlo who also experienced and confronted the degradation of their own bodies. An artist who made the private experiences of her body public, who coped with pain and yet was not defeated by it in her creativity, Szapocznikow gave form to trauma while capturing the volatility of life, its paradoxes and absurdities. Although the artist succumbed to her battle with cancer in Praz-Coutant, France in 1973 at the age of 47, her artistic legacy can still be felt today as one of the first female sculptors in post-war Poland to relate her work directly to the functioning of the human body.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alina Szapocznikow" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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