Agata Słowak

Sperma zalała mózg (Sperm Flooded the Brain), 2023, Oil on canvas 19 3/4 x 15 3/4 in

In Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox representations of Christ, his hand is most often painted to display the symbolism of the blessing, connoting Tinitarian love. In her painting utoportret z krzyżowaniem spermy i krwi (Self-portrait with Sperm and Blood Crossing) Agata Slowak depicts her likeness displaying the same hand position, and from it a spew of scarlet blood, crossing with a stream of ejaculate from a penis—belonging to someone just out of frame—midair. To give this “blessing” through pain and injury relates to what seems to be a strong undercurrent in Slowak’s work: representing devotion through visceral depictions of mutilation. Dismemberment, either explicitly depicted or otherwise suggested through framing and compositional choices evokes a sense of severing oneself from a person, an idea, a place, a community, and subsequently marking the beginning of a new cycle. With a Catholic upbringing in Poland, Slowak’s work seems to soften binaries inherent in stereotypical thought around gender, sexuality, religion, and morality. Her somatic portraiture, while evocative of violence, equally represents a sort of tenderness—a familiarity that beckons the viewer to recognize themselves in the folds of a split quadricep muscle, in a fish-hooked glans penis, in blood-stained pink adidas superstars. – Rebecca Storm

How do you define this idea of “dismemberment”?

I used to say that showing violence and dismembered bodies indicates a lack of tenderness. Dismemberment is a strong symbol of separation of something that should function as a united whole. Maybe it’s also a symbol of a new stage, that when, unexpectedly as a result of some accident, everything in our life changes. Then in this dismemberment, we have to find a new order.

Why do you think there is so much sadomasochism embedded visually in Catholicism?  

Overall it is interesting just how much violence this religion accommodates. From depictions in the Bible to religious battles. I think it may be a matter of struggle for power, and greed to gain it. These violent visions have a great effect on ordinary people by creating fear in them. Fear and eroticism are sometimes close, maybe religion seduces the faithful in this way. 

Byclo Ci Zimno W Moim Cieniu (You Were Cold In My Shadow), 2023, Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in

Bad Fetus, Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 in

Z Cylku (From The Cycle, White Balls On The Wall), 2023, Oil on canvas, 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in

 How do torture and love coexist?

The abuse of another person can be, at best, a disorder, and love for some part of the sick self. Torture in a love relationship is usually a sign of toxicity, but as we know there is a concept of toxic love. If for some reason, by mental conditioning, the tortured person condones it, and derives something from it then, maybe it’s okay. Certainly for me, torture in painting is an expression of love.

How do these surrealist visions come to you? 

It is a combination of several things. I usually start by portraying myself, or an important person in my surroundings, describing in painterly terms the relationship or events of my life. However, I try to make the works so they can be read universally. Current themes, for example, political life in Poland, are often woven in. Themes of religion, sexuality, female power, magic, or mythology that interest me in the course of the creative process, are filtered through my own experiences. 

Łabędzi Śpiew (Swansong), 2022, Oil on canvas, 55 1/8 x 55 1/8 in

Autoportret Z Krzyżowaniem Spermy I Krwi (Self-Portrait With Sperm And Blood Crossing), 2023, Oil on canvas, 35 3/8 x 27 1/2 in

Is your work an attempt to reclaim the power of femininity?

I refer to the so-called “male gaze” and take it over. It’s nice to contribute to changing the direction of discourse, to take away the old masters’ monopoly on naked female bodies deciding what the ideal shape should be. I also take pleasure in interacting with different corporeality that I produce for myself on the canvas.

Do you agree with theories that femininity is the darkness to mascluinity’s light? 

My father used to say repeatedly that the man is the head, and the woman is the neck. Strange are these kinds of theories. I would love it if people could just balance each other, and on their own terms adjust without valuing the sexes. The light of masculinity does not sound great, why should he be the brilliance? Each situation is individual, sometimes a woman is “masculine,” dominant, or phallic.

Are you interested in achieving spiritual androgyny in these works? 

This is not the main principle that I would follow, but my unconscious probably would like them to have a transgender character and universality that would allow to redefine, for example, the relationship between man and woman. The works value the woman, bringing her to a higher level of existence

Joanna Ze Świnka (Joanna With The Pig), 2023, Oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 35 3/8 in

Konstelacja Penisa (Łapka Kotka) (Penis Constellation (Kitty’s Paw), 2023, Oil on canvas,31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in

What is your biggest fear? 

I am afraid of some obvious things beyond my control: war, accident, illness of myself or loved ones. But at the moment, I am especially frightened by the choices that have to be made. I am often afraid that by choosing creativity, my closest relationship falls, or vice versa, that by being in love, I lose creativity work. Or that the chosen person is not the right one. 

Is creativity an act of dominance or submission?

Dominance, resulting from submissiveness. 

Interview by Claire Milbrath
All images are Courtesy of the artist and Fortnight Institute, New York.
Photographer: Jason Mandella.