Magdalena Zięba-Grodzka, Pictorial Incarnation. Reclaiming woman’s agency in Agnieszka Nienartowicz’s paintings

Pictorial Incarnation. Reclaiming woman’s agency in Agnieszka Nienartowicz’s paintings


„She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her.”
– Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth


It is a paradox that Agnieszka Nienartowicz’s works owe their recognition to a virtual media hype. A paradox inherent in the contemporary art market realities, yet surprising when located in the context where the virtual world of the so-called metaverse is becoming more tangible. Her paintings attract attention with their refined hyperrealism and technical accuracy. Still, they are not only mere representations that resemble photography (a fact that seems to be extremely relevant while discussed online). They are subversive comments on the representation itself – especially the one of women’s bodies.
Nienartowicz’s art perfectly juxtaposes an attractive iconography with symbolism rooted in art history. At the same time, it opens a discussion on a post-structuralist level. By depicting attractive bodies tattooed with the masterpieces of European art, the artist mixes two realities: profanum of the body and sacrum of the appropriated artwork. This way, her art becomes political – as political as women’s bodies have always been.

The previous series of Agnieszka’s paintings was intimate. She represented women who exposed their tattooed backs and shoulders in a cinematic light. Elegantly dressed, they let the viewer see the decorated parts of their bodies – as if they were part of a body-art exhibition. In her latest series created for the exhibition Longing for Another World at the Pilipczuk Gallery, Nienartowicz yet again combines women’s portraits with paintings of such masters as Titian and Zurbaran. This time however, she turns the portrayed towards the viewer – and reaches for the most radical form of inked art, a tattooed face. While in European culture, face tattoos are stigmatized, they still play an important cultural role in many Indigenous cultures. In Pre-Colonial North America, tattoos were sacred rite of passage – representing social status, a connection with the spiritual world, or bringing empowerment to women. This is also the case in Nienartowicz’s works – women that she brings to life are strong, self-conscious and fearless.

There is yet another layer of significance in Nienartowicz’s works, though. The artist appropriates and restructures artworks related to the Christian realm. By putting these on women’s bodies she deprives them of a biblical substance and makes them lose their patriarchal sense. She incarnates the stories of sacrifice, domination and consecration info women’s bodies. Thus, she makes them a weapon of reclaiming women’s agency in the world dominated by the male gaze.

From afar her works resemble photographs, but upon closer examination they fascinate with precision and accuracy of execution. This is where the paradox is – works based on reproducing artworks known from art history fascinate even more in real life. Especially if they show bold representations of women from a female perspective. Nienartowicz seems to indulge herself with the time-consuming process of fine-tuning her paintings, likewise the old masters she likes to copy. The artist says she treats these masterpieces as attfibutes, and changes their meaning while transferring them to her own works. She leads a private conversation with them and uses their iconographic ideas just the way she likes – to create intoxicating pictorial incarnations of women’s gaze.


Magdalena Zięba-Grodzka

Text for the catalog of the exhibition „Longing for Another World”
publ. Pilipczuk Gallery, Copenhagen, 2022