YAGA is a photo book about the idea of emancipation of socially excluded women that the system finds inconvenient. It provides a subjective view of women and inequality existing even in the queer world, where men still get more space for telling their stories than non-heteronormative women who seem to go out of sight.
Yaga constitutes an archetype of a contemporary witch, but YAGA is, above all, an emancipatory idea. Agata Kalinowska’s first publication is a book about freedom – about non-heteronormative standards of attractiveness, age shaming and deconstructing the male-female myths that shape the system. It is also a work about the relationship between beauty and socially imposed female identity. It is about the liberating power of a conscious choice to be excluded, to function outside the confines of norms and the established cultural context – about the isolation that allows one to exist on one’s own terms.
photos and text: Agata Kalinowska
sequence: Agata Kalinowska & Łukasz Rusznica
curatorial work: Łukasz Rusznica
graphic design: Agata Bartkowiak
preparation for printing: Krzysztof Krzystofiak
published by: BWA Wrocław Galleries of Contemporary Art
YAGA is a very personal book. I think it came about mainly because I was sick of being silent. It’s the kind of silence of shared history that, after years of hiding and shame, becomes part of oneself. But my personal silence has turned into something quite the opposite, into a sort of eccentric exhibitionism. I want to be seen at last. It’s compulsive, like most things in my life. I’m torn between the extremes. I think my lesbian life in Poland has done that to me to some extent. Tranquility and children are two things that I fear even more than death. Death seems more familiar.
When I worked in a pub, my girlfriends used to talk about penises all the time. I listened to them chatter, and even though I should have been smarter, I felt like I was missing out again. It’s coming back. There are a few details of anatomy that keep one away from love. I never wanted a penis, but people kept mistaking me for a boy. Porn slappers at the Wrocław square invited me to strip clubs; I preferred standing in line to the men’s toilet, because in the women’s line girls would stare at me and whisper something to each other. I have felt like a freak all my life, except now it is great.
I don’t see girls and women dressed up for dates, in a cloud of perfume, wearing their best shoes. I see them pissing under a bush, yelling at a cab driver, crying over some loser who suddenly run away, falling asleep naked and wasted in a bathtub. Around them, my femininity seems incomplete, just as my masculinity. But do I have to be complete?
There are those poetic, powerful moments in life that one can never plan for, and then it always dawns on me that there’s nothing else. One can experience the world like madness. One can let go of control, let go of excessive planning, then the signals start coming at you from every angle. They resemble destiny, magic in action, spells. I’m getting an awful lot of it, and I think it’s because I’m in between the sexes. Magical thinking requires naivety and vigilance, but if it’s met with contempt, you should run away. These are not the people for you.
Who we are is fluid. Przemek Piniak recently said that he used to be gay, but he doesn’t know any more. I feel the same. There is a new flow of force in us, despite the hate campaign and all that hatred. I feel like Yaga. A dude with a dog by her side. I used to be so scared of that, and now I see it’s great. I like lakes, speed riding my bike in the fields, I like people telling me about themselves, I like someone wandering with me along the riverbanks despite the rain because they are not afraid of the weather or dancing or talking about their broken heart. My heart is some kind of Frankenstein. A mutant. A she-mutant. Stitched together, bass heart.It’s not enough for me to be a butch, but in Yaga first and foremost there’s a lesbian story. I let it out into the world for other lesbians, queers, gays, trans and non-binary people, bi people, my boyfriends and girlfriends, women and men. I don’t condone a witch-hunt or book burning.
Agata Kalinowska – photographer, writer and bartender affiliated with BWA Wrocław, Ośrodek Postaw Twórczych (Creative Arts Centre), and the Wrocław bar scene. Her interests include the experiences of the precariat, which she documents on her blog relativelyhuman.blogspot.com. Agata’s work has been presented in Poland and abroad. Her exhibition Just Don’t Fall in Love, held at the Miejsce przy Miejscu Gallery in Wrocław in 2015 and curated by Łukasz Rusznica, enjoyed immense popularity. Her photo book SCUM was shortlisted for the Kassel Dummy Award in 2018 and made it to the finals of the Gomma Grant 2019. YAGA, created in collaboration with Łukasz Rusznica, will be released by BWA Wrocław in September 2021.