Writer Beth Exley / Photographer Connor Pope
Centrala is a small gallery space and café located in Minerva works right on the edge of the Grand Union Canal in Digbeth. It is the only UK gallery space that specialises in the display of Central and Eastern European art outside of London. On this quiet afternoon there are a few tables positioned outside in the sun, overlooking the geese leisurely making their way across the water. It’s idyllic.
As I enter the café, I am greeted by a friendly barista who instructs me on how to approach the Ewa Partum Exhibition – they recommended starting upstairs with the display of Partum’s own works, and then coming back down to see the contemporary works of a younger generation of artists, who deal with similar themes and issues to Partum.
Heeding their advice, I go up to the first floor. The space is large and understated, there are no dividing walls, and you can observe all the artworks together when you first enter. Here I am greeted by a variety of screens displaying performance pieces by Partum made in the 1970s and 80s, along with a few installations.
Ewa Partum is a Polish conceptual performance artist and film maker who began producing public works at the tail end of the 1960s, she is known primarily as a feminist artist, and is considered a pioneer of Eastern European feminism. Her work is powerful and personal and confronts the viewer head on.
The introductory panel states that this exhibition “aims to familiarise viewers with the work of Ewa Partum, but also to reflect on art as a tool of resistance and protest.”
Immediately next to this is a screen playing a short documentary video made about Partum by Janina Motylińska. I must admit, before attending this exhibition I had never heard of Ewa Partum, so this is a useful introduction that gears me up to understand the rest of the work included in the exhibition.
Turning around I am immediately drawn to an old-fashioned TV on a plinth in the centre of the room, this piece is entitled Change. The image on the screen is Partum herself in 1979. The work is a fragmentary video of a performance work. Partum has a bold black line drawn down the centre of her face and she stares directly into the camera. Makeup is used to age one side of her as the other stays youthful.
Change is captivating to watch, and I find myself staring at it for quite some time.
Pulling away I wander over to the far corner of the room where the most recent work of Partum’s included in this exhibition sits. You Take Our Freedom to Decide, So We Will Take Your Power (2017/2022) is a recreation of a 2017 work created in support of the Black Protest in Poland.
The Black Protest was a huge intergenerational protest against a parliamentary bill that sought to criminalise abortion in all cases. The symbol of this protest came to be a black umbrella. In Centrala, real images of these protests accompany the artwork, highlighting the importance of the feminist struggle in Poland to an international audience.
This exhibition is an important and educational display which introduces the audience to a radical and pioneering feminist artist. It is both highly interesting and powerful, and as I head downstairs to get myself a coffee in Centrala’s wonderful café I am very excited to see how contemporary artists have responded to Partum’s work in the downstairs space.
For more information of Ewa Partum’s ‘My Problem Is A Problem Of A Woman’ visit Centrala’s Website here: www.centrala-space.org.uk/exhibition/ewa-partum-my-problem-is-a-problem-of-a-woman