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Light Designers Exhibition


 Women Designers of Light Exhibition,

  One can read about the neon signs of the communist era in the press of the time that they are: delicate, subtle, beautiful, elegant, and even charming or filthy - in other words, adjectives that are often associated with the cultural narrative of femininity are used.  However, it is more difficult in this story of neon design in Poland or in the history of domestic ‘neonisation’ to find the real women who contributed to their creation.

  Not because there was a shortage of female designers.  As with their male counterparts, they were both graphic designers, painters and architects - from the 1950s to the late 1970s, they inscribed neon into the Polish urban fabric to brighten the greyish colours of the streets and create the impression of an attractive metropolis.  Although the ideology of communism in theory equalised opportunities for men and women in the labor and art markets - in practice, however, in a still patriarchal reality, women's work was as ubiquitous as it was most often - un-described and un-distinguished.

  Also in recent years, although interest in the history and aesthetics of neon has increased, the names that appear in newspaper articles, documentaries or exhibitions are mostly male designers. Female designers have not been visible and represented until now.  In fact, they did not exist in popular memory.

The exposition changes this status quo. Neon thus regains its herstory (from herstory - women's history) 

  Ilona Karwinska - curator of the exhibition, photographer, Polish neon enthusiast and co-founder of the Neon Muzeum - turns the spotlight on forgotten female artists. The exhibition is an attempt to restore their rightful place in the discourse - both in art and in the mass imagination.  It presents the collective achievements and individual accomplishments of women artists, and attributes well-known and outstanding projects to their female creators, so that neon signs created by women are no longer anonymous or mistakenly attributed to men.  Cepelia, Fiat, the neon sign of the Krakow Fur Factory called "Hedgehog," Gerlach, Musical Instruments and many others - it is impossible to imagine the map of the capital without pastel-coloured, illuminated advertisements from under a woman's hand. Neon signs by women were a literal, material realisation of what American philosopher and feminist Rebecca Solnit writes about today - hope in the darkness.  In the interstices of social existence offered to them by the People's Republic of Poland, women neonisers were able to find space for action.  Their neon interventions in the urban space were an everyday, unobtrusive dose of lightness and beauty.

  Unfortunately, not all authors have left traces behind them - the details of some biographies have blurred.  Some herstories are just a signature under a sketch, a few sheets in a folder.  The work of restoring memory, the herstories of Polish women designers of light is therefore still an open project, of which this exhibition is both a summary and the next stage - open to interpretation and continuation.

Karolina Sulej
Writer, Author, Anthropologist