Joanna Piotrowska is a visual artist and photographer, born in 1985 in Warsaw. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków and the Royal College of Art in London. She lives and works in London and Warsaw.
Piotrowska works primarily with black and white photography. In her projects she often highlights things we associate with comfort and safety, but her stagings become somewhat more ominous. Piotrowska does not consider her photographs to be documentary but sees them as performances, where the characters’ poses, facial expressions and movements are carefully directed.
Exhibitions include Tate Britain, London, Great Britain, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria.
At Göteborgs Konsthall Piotrowska participated in the exhibition Our Red Sky, 2020 – 2021.
In the exhibition Our Red Sky Piotrowska presented two projects; Untitled from 2015 and Frantic from 2017.
In the series, Untitled, young women are portrayed in locked positions of self-defence. The images alternate between loving and aggressive expressions. Inspired by the American feminist and psychologist Carol Gilligan, Piotrowska examines how girls learn to pose to live up to social expectations. Concern over women’s vulnerability and social status, and the fact that many self-defence handbooks are written by men for men, prompted Piotrowska to create this series of staged self-defence poses with women, because, as she herself puts it, “we need to defend ourselves and use our bodies as weapons”.
The photo series Frantic documents provisional shelters. What appears at first sight to be enactments of a childish game – building a hut with simple materials such as blankets and pillows – has a more serious meaning here. Piotrowska has photographed people who have built temporary shelters in their homes in different cities across the world. Some are rickety, others more carefully constructed, some are cage-like and so tiny that they can hardly fit inside. Others are more spacious. These temporary living environments reflect different needs, lifestyles and tastes, and people’s interpretations of what a safe place is and means to them.
The title, Frantic, alludes not only to an intense, hectic state of mind, but also to a longing or need for care, security and protection. Piotrowska’ ambiguous, multifaceted images not only pose vital questions about safety, but also makes us ask if our own homemade safety is really that safe.