Museum of Pharmacy, Museum of Warsaw branch

Magda Bielesz’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Pharmacy is a cross-section of themes. It is not a run-of-the-mill retrospective, though, and the venue is not a random one, either.

Illness and its situational environment, including the broader medical and pharmacological context, have become an important area of artistic interest, a guiding principle as well as the artist’s unique niche.

Plague, syphilis, cancer, AIDS, trauma. Definitions of these very terms open the thesis entitled The Impact of Illness on Art, which constitutes a portion of Magda Bielesz’s portfolio compiled towards the MA she obtained in 2002 from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. With works by Frida Kahlo, Alina Szapocznikow, Rebecca Horn and Katarzyna Kozyra as references, Magda has attempted to show the relationship between illness, its initial circumstances, its generated experiences, and art. She took the opportunity to reference her own experiences, too, central to her artistic expression.

At the same time, she has reduced the formal component to a minimum, presenting characters and objects against a white background, devoid of context. Her works usually portray characters in motion, not fitting within the constraints of the canvas. To the contrary, the centrally placed items allude to games, physical fitness and the artists’ former limitations thereof.

Anxiety and the resulting insecurity; unassociated anxiety; anxiety reflecting the trauma of the artist falling into the water as a child; anxiety caused by difficult pregnancies – first her sister’s, then her own; fear of loss, of losing her childhood, and fear of becoming an adult – all these constitute the leitmotif of this project, comprising paintings, drawings, sculptures and artist’s notes.

Here Magda Bielesz references fine arts, pop culture, games, fairy tales and toys. Art allows her to process important and dangerous experiences. To cross boundaries she is unable to overcome in reality. She says she “feels safe among drugs” but actually she feels the safest holding a paintbrush in her hand.

The exhibition presents works from the last twenty years, since her graduation until today, where all these threads are intertwined. The museum showcases with their content, the Museum of Pharmacy permanent exhibition, becomes an essential element of the project, too. The story is completed with a trio of colors: yellow, red and blue. They are a reference to a beach ball, an important motif/symbol in Magda Bielesz’s work, present in multiple contexts – as a reference to carefree childhood and the responsibility of being a mother. Each color has a specific meaning. They denote, in turn, reference to general themes, references to cultural themes, and personal stories.

Magda Bielesz is a painter, author of installations, art objects, drawings and films. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 2002 she defended her diploma at the Leon Tarasewicz Guest Studio. She has received several scholarships from the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. In 2019, she an art residency at the Residencia Corazón art center in La Plata, Argentina. This residency resulted in Bielesz’s solo exhibition, Legend, about her ancestors’ links to South America. There, she created a nearly eight-meters-tall wool sculpture referencing her family relationships. That same year, the artist had her last solo exhibition, which closed just before the pandemic broke out (Rites of Transition. Board Games. at the Zachęta Project Room). Bielesz invited her son to work on with her on the exhibition and discuss their mutual relationship. She is also an author of artistic and social projects in the urban space. Magda puts various themes against each other, such as childhood and motherhood, or health and illness. She loves to mend stories with her art. She believes that the role of artists is to change the world for the better and create opportunities for varied perceptions.

Anna Walewska