Urszula Broll. Atman Means Breath
21.05.2021 – 25.07.2021
The retrospective exhibition at the Muzeum Karkonoskie in Jeleniej Górze
The retrospective of Urszula Broll’s painting at the Muzeum Karkonoskie in Jelenia Góra tells the life story and uncovers the comprehensive work of an extraordinary artist. Urszula Broll (1930–2020) began her artistic activity during the difficult post-war years. Nevertheless, the artist never took commissions from the communist authorities. She was one of the few women who made an impact on the post-war artistic avant-garde and the so-called Katowice underground. Already during her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, she co-created the St-53 Group – the first artist group established after 1945.
The word atman (Sanskrit: ghost, breath) appeared in Broll’s work in 1967 and is associated with the Oneiron Group in Katowice. Her studio, which she kept with her husband Andrzej Urbanowicz, became a laboratory for spiritual and artistic experiments in the 1960s. Philosophy, religion, magic, occultism and gnosis were discussed there.
Oneiron’s most important work is „Lexicon” („Encyclopaedia of Symbols”). It consists of 30 black cardboard boxes, each of which was assigned one letter of the Polish alphabet. Each, in turn, was assigned a watchword beginning with the given letter: atman, ból (pain), cephalus (Greek hero), drzewo (tree) …, which were supplemented by the artists with new words and drawings according to a strictly defined schedule. Their method for ordering their own ideas, signs and symbols resembled the Surrealists’ drawing of lots to determine artistic themes. The only restriction was the choice of colours: the only acceptable ones were white, silver and gold – the colours of divine light. The first box with the letter A, which went to Broll, was marked with the concept atman.
While Urbanowicz explored the mysteries of Western occultism, esotericism and alchemy, Broll delved into Indian mysticism, Taoism, Zen philosophy and tantra. She also translated texts by Carl Gustav Jung. Her work came to be heavily influenced by her reading and Far Eastern meditation practices. In the 1980s, Broll, following a Buddhist community, moved to the village of Przesieka in the Karkonosze Mountains. She called it her discovered place. At home on a hill, surrounded by a wild garden, she created paintings on meditation, colourful mandalas and intricate black-and-white ink drawings. She painted mountain landscapes, which she called emotional states. In peace and quiet, the artist devoted herself to meditation, attaining spiritual equilibrium. Broll’s paintings – distant from art understood as making objects – evolved toward what the artist called art as yoga. This practice freed her from the requirements and criteria of the world of art, but it also placed her outside the mainstream narratives in Polish art history. Urszula Broll died in February 2020, while preparations for her first retrospective at the Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture at the Królikarnia Palace, Division of the National Museum in Warsaw were underway.
The exhibition provides viewers with an opportunity to experience tranquillity. The artist’s mandalas evoke longings free of anxiety. They inspire contemplation about the relationship between man and nature as well as the metaphysical dimension of reality.
The exhibition’s initiator and partner is the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation, which supports the activity of women in culture and the arts. One of its new long-term projects is an effort to increase the presence and improve the perception of female artists. The first task of the project, implemented by the Foundation with the support of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage under the 2019 Visual Arts Program, was to fully catalogue Urszula Broll’s oeuvre and present it to the public. The Foundation has published the first complete catalogue of her work entitled Urszula Broll. Atman Means Breath.
Curator (Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation): Janina Hobgarska
Partner: Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation