Joanna Piotrowska

In classic black and white photographs Joanna Piotrowska’s works address the psychological drama of families and domestic life. 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.

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, who writes about ethical relationships and community, 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”.

Preoccupied with ideas of vulnerability and protection, including feelings of anxiety and exposure, Piotrowska also shows works from the photo series Frantic, which documents provisional shelters built. The series came about in several cities: London, Lisbon, Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro, where the concern for personal safety is expressed in widely different ways. 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 shelters in their own homes. 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.

Courtesy of the artist and Southard Reid.