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CULTURE

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Student's talk:
Ma Lihua (Taiwan)
It is hard to admit it, but I never knew Poland was a kingdom once! For me it was interesting to find out how Poland became a democratic country and influenced its neighboring countries behind the Iron Curtain.

If you are interested in culture, Poland has a fantastic offer for you. Museums, galleries, theatres, operas and cinemas – every day you can do something interesting! Are you into folklore? Then we have something special for you, too!

Poland is a mix of eastern and western cultures. Similarly, the influences from the traditional folk and modern art intertwine in Polish culture. It presents an amazing and breathtaking collage. In Polish culture, everyone can find something of interest. Especially among students, interest in culture has become fashionable. And there are plenty of options to choose from!

Polish modern art is more and more popular in the world. It has been highly esteemed in Europe for a long time. Our films win awards in the international festivals. In Poland, you will not only find plenty of fantastic film festivals but also international theatre and music festivals. The biggest pop and classical music stars visit Polish stages. We also have musicians we are proud of. After all, we are Chopin’s country! Poland is a true state of culture.

Film

The Polish film industry has been developing alongside the European one. The first cinema in Poland was founded in 1899 in Łódź. Obviously, brothers’ Lumiere machine was adopted for screenings. The first Polish feature film was made as early as 1908 - Antoś in Warsaw for the first time (Antoś po raz pierwszy w Warszawie). The screenings of novels and melodramas were popular at first. Some of them were quite successful and made the leading actors famous. Between the two Great World Wars, after Poland gained independence, a lot of new cinemas were opened. In 1921 there were 400 of them and by 1938 already 800! Poland’s first sound movie, Ms. Dulska’s Morality (Moralność Pani Dulskiej), was filmed before the Second World War. This naturally started a new era in Polish cinematography.

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Once the Second World War broke out, Polish film virtually ceased to exist. The last movie from that period is the chronicle documenting fights in the besieged Warsaw - The Chronicle of Besieged Warsaw(Kronika oblężonej Warszawy) - from September 1939. During the Second World War the cinemas began to be a tool of a Nazi propaganda. Polish people stopped going to the cinemas. This is when the famous phrase was coined: “Only pigs go to the cinema” suggesting that only Nazi collaborators watch movies. Meanwhile, Polish movie-makers continued their work abroad, making mainly patriotic films. In Poland, only two more Chronicles of the Warsaw Uprising were made.

After the war, the communists came to power and they ensured that Polish cinematography would quickly be resurrected. They understood what a perfect propaganda tool it could be. For that purpose, a special film industry “Polish Film” was brought to life. It had the sole right to produce Polish films as well as to purchase and distribute foreign movies. In those times the Polish Film Chronicle became popular. Today it is a great source of knowledge for those who wish to understand what the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) really was. It is also a useful reference for students of history, culture or cinematography.

Besides the propaganda movies, during communism there were films made about the painful experiences of war and occupation. A few exceptional pieces of art came from that time: The Last Stage (Ostatni Etap) by Wanda Jakubowska – about the extermination of people in concentration camps, and The Graniczna Street (Ulica Graniczna) by Aleksander Ford about the Warsaw Ghetto. Unfortunately, while communist censorship grew stronger it became more and more difficult to create ambitious and intellectually independent movies. There were a few exceptions at the end of the 50s. Overall, during communism, Polish film experienced a downturn.

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After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 censorship in Poland gradually lifted. It is then when the Polish Film School came to life. This name refers to a group of Polish directors who received many international awards and are nowadays famous worldwide, including: Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Kazimierz Kutz, Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski. Films created at that time usually impress the students of cinematography and culture science.

The last important period of Polish film in the communist times were the 70s and “the cinema of moral anxiety”. Again, a few outstanding names deserve to be mentioned: the late Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Zanussi and the already mentioned Andrzej Wajda. Today, their films are highly valued works of art across the globe. A separate stream of Polish cinema in 70s and 80s were the comedies and TV serials that managed to find a way around the national censorship. They criticized and ridiculed everyday life in the communist regime. The most famous movie directors of that sector are: Stanislaw Breja – the author of the cult film Teddy Bear (Miś), Jerzy Gruza, Marek Piwowski, Sylwester Chęciński, Andrzej Kondratiuk.

These comedies are usually hard to understand for foreigners because they focus on the absurdity of living in a communist state. Additionally, there are a lot of references made to events and people of that time. However, if you study history, cultures or cinematography – it is worthwhile to watch and to try to understand them. They express a more real and detailed picture of those times than any history book! A lot of quotes from these movies were incorporated into Polish language and culture.

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The end of the PRL marks the beginning of capitalism. A change followed in Polish cinema too. Besides the communist era movies, there were purely commercial productions like action movies and romantic comedies; in other words – the same type of cinema as elsewhere in the world.

Polish cinema continues to develop and the directors of today’s younger generation are gaining even more popularity abroad. Directors who had celebrated their film debuts in PRL are still artistically active. Andrzej Wajda got an honorary Oscar in 2000. Jerzy Skolimowski collected the Special Jury Prize for his movie Essential Killing at the Venice Film Festival in 2010. Our camera operators (Andrzej Bartkowiak), scriptwriters (Alan Starski) and music composers (Jan A. P. Kaczmarek) are highly valued worldwide, too. The Polish cinema has a lot to offer!

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POLISH THEATRE

Similarly to other European countries, the Polish theatre originated from the medieval religious stage. In the centuries that followed, the secular theatre blossomed, supported by the royal court and the Polish magnates. Both Polish and European classic plays were staged. However, the real development of the Polish theatre with its actors, directors and screenwriters took place at the end of the 19th century. A number of theatres were established in various cities in Poland at that time. It is then that the profession of an actor was established. Actors were highly esteemed and considered artists. The theatre stage became a means of political journalism. This was especially the case before the end of the First World War, when Poland regained its independence that had lost since the 18th century. The Polish theatre could finally develop without restraint. One of the most famous plays commenting on the reality of the time was The Wedding (Wesele) by Stanislaw Wyspianski. The premier of the play took place in 1901 in Krakow. Its new interpretations have been staged to this day.

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In 1924 the National Theatre in Warsaw was established. A lot of smaller stages had their beginnings around that time, too. By the end of 1938 there were 32 theatres in 16 cities in Poland.

The Second World War put the development of theatre as an art to a stop. Various performances were still staged, yet going to see a play, like to going to the movies, was considered politically incorrect behavior. A lot of distinguished artists died and many emigrated. The historical theatre buildings were destroyed.

Nevertheless, in the parts of Poland gradually deserted by the Nazis, small theatre groups were quickly founded. One of the examples is the Actor’s Group Theatre (Teatr Zespołu Aktorskiego) in Lublin, already established by 1944 in Lublin. Right after the end of the Second World War, the art of the theatre in Poland was quickly restored.

The National School of Theatre, founded in Warsaw, opened in 1946. It exists till today and its graduates gain international success. During the times of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) the theatre repertoire underwent censorship. What earlier had been considered a classic worth performing, became suspicious, to put it mildly, in the eyes of the communist authorities. The list of forbidden plays included the works of the most honored Polish authors like: Adam Mickiewicz and his poetic novel Forefathers’ Eve (Dziady) as well as most of Wyspianski’s plays (the author of The Wedding). The theatre was a propaganda tool during the communist times. The socialist plays of poor artistic quality were mostly staged.

Fortunately, in time the theatre became a place to express one’s political views again. The most important example was the famous performance of Forefathers’ Eve directed by Kazimierz Dejmka. It was an event with far- reaching consequences in public life. The socialist powers recognized the play as anti-Soviet and barred its performance. Their actions stirred protests in academic and artistic environments. Manifestations and strikes followed. Two students of Jewish origin were expelled from Warsaw University, which resulted in more manifestations, strikes and the open letters of protest. The socialist government started a Jew-hunt. Due to those tragic events, many renowned Polish intellectuals of Jewish origin left Poland forever. It is estimated 20,000 people emigrated from Poland at that time.

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Despite the difficulties and political restraints put on the performing arts, there were two world famous theatre experiments conducted in Poland in the PRL times. The first one is called Cricot2 and was created by Tadeusz Kantor. The second one, even more wellknown, was created by Jerzy Grotowski - The Laboratrium Theatre. Grotowski himself gained the respect as a true master to many theatre and film artists all over the world. In recognition of his work, Grotowski was given a chair of the Anthropology Theatre at the prestigious College de France. Both theatres had a unique character not only in Poland, but also globally. Today exist the Jerzy Grotkowski Institute and the “Cricoteka” Tadeusz Kantor Centre for Art Documentation.

The end of PRL changed the role of the theatre. It does not play such a political role any more and its artistic value is growing. In the 1990s, many new stages were established, some of them experimental. Our stage directors are valued not only in Poland, but also abroad. Krystian Lupa, Krzystof Warlikowski i Grzegorz Jerzyna repeatedly collect prizes at European festivals.

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MUSIC

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The most known Polish composer is without a doubt Frederic Chopin. In 2010 we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birthday. For that reason the year 2010 was called The Year of Chopin. To commemorate the great composer, numerous concerts and festivals are staged not only in Poland but also globally. Since 1927 Poland has been host to the International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, one of the oldest and most prestigious live competitions in the world. It takes place every 5 years.

There are other Polish composers and musicians who are also known worldwide. The violin virtuoso and the composer of many musical forms, Henryk Wieniawski, was considered during his time “a violinist of genius”.

A Polish pianist, Ignacy Paderewski, made a musical career in Europe and USA. Karol Szymanowski is a multitalented composer, also known outside of Poland. The Polish national opera founder, Stanislaw Moniuszko is considered a second most important composer of 20th century, right after Chopin.

The following musicians became internationally renowned in the second half of 20th century: Grażyna Bacewicz, Witold Lutosławski, Tadeusz Baird, Kazimierz Serocki. Also the avant-garde composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki and Witold Szalonek gained fame abroad.

Another generation of classical avant-garde composers include: Tomasz Sikorski, Zygmunt Krauze, Krzysztof Meyer. Among the youngest generation representatives, Pawel Mykietyn is the most highly valued. Also Polish film composers are popular and frequently awarded internationally: Wojciech Kilar, Zbigniew Preisner and Jan A. P. Kaczkarek (who got an Oscar in the category: Film Music).

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Polish jazz school is considered one of the most interesting globally. Their most important representatives of this stream are: Adam Makowicz, Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stańko, Michał Urbaniak. During communist times, Poland became host to an international Jazz Jamboree festival, which was exceptional among the countries of the Eastern Bloc. A lot of jazz stars came to Poland at that time, including Miles Davis. The Jazz Jamboree festival continues to take place today.

Metal music is quite popular in Poland, too. Our bands are known internationally – Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated, Vesania or Hate.

The Polish Youth listen to the same music as young people across the globe. We obviously have our own rock, hip-hop and pop scene. Some Polish musicians have recorded with the international music stars, like Anna Maria Jopek who had an album with Path Metheny, or Kayah who recorded with Cesaria Evora or Goran Bregovic. Anna Maria Jopek is a well-known jazz singer in Germany.

If you are into pop, you should try listening to rocking Doda or the soul of Edyta Górniak. Hey, Kult and Myslovitz are the most popular Polish rock bands.

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Poland is host to many internationally known music festivals. The most important of them is OPEN’ER, which is annually visited by the biggest music stars. So far we have welcomed: Chemical Brothers, Pearl Jam, Massive Attack, Cypress Hill, The White Stripes, Skunk Anasie and many, many more. Every year one of the biggest musical events in the country occurs. Gdynia becomes the music centre for the whole of Europe! Check our calendarium and news to find out what other interesting events are taking place on the Polish music scene. Polish music is exceptionally diverse. Everyone will find something for himself or herself here!


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Literature

If you would like to study Polish Philology, you will obviously get to know Polish literature in depth. However, regardless of your field of study, it is worthwhile to become acquainted with Polish writers who have gained popularity abroad and received prestigious awards.

The fans of science fiction should have heard about at least two Polish authors: Stanislaw Lem and Andrzej Sapkowski. Lem’s books are among the most often translated Polish books and he is considered a classic author of sci-fi literature. His most important books are: The Star Diaries (Dzienniki Gwiazdowe), Eden, Solaris (which merited two film adaptations by Andriej Tarkowski and Steven Soderbergh), Summa Technolgiae and Cyberiada. Andrzej Sapkowski wrote The Witcher Guild Board (Sagi o Wiedźminie), internationally valued works by fans of Polish sci-fi and others, too.

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A number of Polish writers received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first one went to Henryk Sienkiewicz in 1905 for his most famous work: Quo Vadis, now translated into 50 languages. In 1924 Wladyslaw Reymont received the prize for his novel The Peasants (Chłopi).

Two Polish poets gained international popularity after winning are Nobel Prizes in literature. Czeslaw Milosz received the prestigious prize in 1980. He is most known for his book The Captive Mind (Zniewolony Umysł). He is also an author of The History of Polish Literature, written and published after he had immigrated to the United States. Wislawa Szymborska, a poet known worldwide and extremely popular in Italy and Germany, became the laureate winner of the Nobel in 1996.

If you are interested in literature, you should read something written by Polish authors. You will find Polish books translated into foreign languages at your local university Library. Enjoy reading!

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Polish art

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The biggest relics of Polish Visual arts come from the Romanian period of the Middle Ages – mainly the wall paintings in churches. However, the finest examples of wall paintings come from the second half of 14th century, during the Gothic period. Some of them can be admired in The Assumption of the Holy Mary Church in Torun.

If you are interested in medieval art, you should visit Gothic churches, especially in Krakow and other cities of Little Poland, where a specific “Krakow-Nowy Sacz style” was developed in sacred architecture.

The Polish Renaissance art is best represented in architecture. The Sigmunt Chapel in the Wawel Cathedral became known as The Pearl of the Renaissance. No creative work of art in Poland at that time could compete with the perfection of the Sigmunt Chapel.. It is notable that the primary function of painting began to change then. Both streams – religious and secular - have been developing side by side since the Renaissance. Secular art took the form of portraits, which can be found in most of Polish museums today. Coffin portraits are characteristic of Polish art from the Baroque era of 17th century. This form of art does not feature anywhere else in the world. The funeral ceremonies of the higher strata of Polish society were important events. The portraits of the deceased were painted on tin and depicted the person in a realistic way. (As a live person of course!)

The Polish painting of 18th century was influenced by European art, especially Italian and French. Polish art developed around the royal court of Stanislaw August Poniatowski as the king became the patron of many artists. Most of them came from abroad and their role was to rebuild the King’s residences: the Royal Castle and the Lazienki Palace in Warsaw.

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Once Poland lost its independence, Polish art changed its function. It was the end of the royal patronage. New forms of artistic life sprung up during the 19th century - museums, public exhibitions and competitions. The trade of artworks became popular and many private art collections were gathered. All of that influenced the subjects of paintings. Royal and religious themes in art were slowly replaced by landscapes, life scenes, urban portraits, and historic moments.

This last category became quite popular in Poland due to the talented painter Jan Matejko. He painted huge pieces of art, commemorating the moments of Poland’s glory. His most famous painting is The Battle of Grundwald (Bitwa pod Grunwaldem) now located in the National Museum in Warsaw, and The Battle of Racławice (Bitwa pod Racławicami) and Prussian Tribute (Hołd Pruski) in the National Museum in Krakow. Another famous piece of art similar in character is The Racławice Panorama (Panorama Racławicka) by the Kossak brothers. This is on display in the National Museum in Wroclaw.

Apart from historic painting, classical and romantic painting, popular throughout Europe at that time, developed also in Poland. This trend in art is represented by painters like Piotr Michalowski and Henryk Rodakowski. Their paintings can be seen in the National Museum in Krakow. (However, Rodakowski’s most famous painting, Mother’s Portrait (Portret Matki) is displayed in the Museum of Art in Łodź.)

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The second half of the 19th century generated a number of great talents in Polish art. The most important figures are: Artur Grottger, Maksymilian Gierymski, Józef Szermentowski, Artur Chmielowski (their works of art can be found in the National Museums of Krakow, Poznan and Warsaw). A lot of Polish artists emigrated at that time, however Polish landscapes and people continued to be featured in the immigrants’ paintings. To that category belong: Józef Chełmoński, Józef Brandt, Aleksander Gierymski, Władysław Podkowiński, Józef Pankiewicz. Their paintings can be viewed in the National Museums of many Polish cities.

Many art critics consider the turn of the 19th century to be the best period of Polish painting. It is the time when Polish art gained its own, individual expression. It was evidently related to the political situation of living and creating in the country without its statehood. (link to history). This was the time when painting merged with poetry and other forms of literature. The paintings were full of symbols referring to both ancient and Slavic mythology and their topics included nature, life and death. Various forms of art merged and mixed.

The best example of that era is Stanislaw Wyspianski – a painter, dramatist, scene painter, poet and stage director. He is also famous for the beautiful stained glass in the Franciscan Church in Kraków and for his pastel portraits of families and children. His works of art can be viewed in the National Museums of Krakow, Poznan and Warsaw. When you visit any Polish National Museum, make sure you look out for the paintings of other famous Polish painters of that era: Jacek Malczewski, Wojceich Weiss, Witold Wojtkiewicz, Olga Boznańska, Leon Wyczółkowski and Józef Mehoffer.

Once Poland regained independence in 1914, there were not that many patriotic references in Polish paintings any more. The period between the two World Wars was marked by a rich and active artistic life, marked by the emergence of various artistic groups. The most popular artists included: Leon Chwistek, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Zofia Stryjenska. To the avant-garde group belonged: Tytus Czyżeski, Władysław Stzremiński, Henryk Stażewski.

The Second World War devastated all of the divisions of Polish culture, including painting. Any attempts to continue artistic activities after the Second World War were quickly suppressed by the communist state. Socialist realism was dictated to be the predominant style. Nevertheless, some outstanding painters came out of the PRL. If you are interested in modern art, you cannot miss the paintings by Andrzej Wróblewski, Tomasz Makowski, Jan Cybis, Józef Czapski, Tadeusz Kantor, Jerzy Nowosielski, Tadeusz Brzozowski and many others whose works of art can be admired in the National Museums.

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Polish modern artists are also popular abroad. Our sculptor, Małgorzata Abakanowicz, is one of the mostly recognized ones, especially in the USA. Also the late Alina Szapocznikow was well known in France. Miroslaw Bałka gained spectacular success in 2009 in the London Tate Modern. His installation How It Is was very well received by the British press. The works of modern art can be found in the contemporary galleries and museums of modern art. In the Modern Art Centre in Warsaw you can find works by Paweł Althamer who was awarded an important European Prize of Vincent van Gogh.

Polish modern art is highly esteemed in Poland and abroad. Visit our galleries and museums to find out for yourself!

List of modern art centres:

  • Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw
  • Instytut Sztuki Wyspa in Gdańsk
  • Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Kronika in Bytom
  • Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia in Gdańsk
  • Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Znaki Czasu in Toruń
  • Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Solvay in Kraków
  • Mazowieckie Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej „Elektrownia” in Radom.

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Polish culture is fascinating and has its own distinctive flavour. Have fun discovering it!


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