darning and other times

‘darning and other times’ (2022) was commissioned for the second edition of the Brent Biennale ‘In the House of My Love’ curated by Eliel Jones and a curatorial comittee consisting of artists Adam Farah, Jamila Prowse and Abbas Zahedi. 

The Brent Biennale brought together artists and community groups whose works explore the many meanings of homemaking. The Biennale asked how, and why, the act of making home can be a form of resistance and survival within the context of hostile environments— including those of racism, homophobia, ableism, climate catastrophe, and political austerity. 

In a multidisciplinary display of archival methodologies, Katarzyna Perlak invites conversations to form between queer and Catholic aesthetics as well as folk practices. Perlak’s commission comprises a series of embellished tablecloths and Pajaki sculptures (also known as spiders), which are traditional Polish paper chandeliers that are hung to protect the home. Continuing to develop a practice the artist refers to as “Tender Crafts”, the works engage traditional folk-craft methods from queer and migrant perspectives.

My Grandma’s Doilies (2022) are a series of tablecloths originally made by, and inherited from, the artist’s late grandmother, Agnieszka Ponanta. The tablecloths have been hand-printed with family photographs and further hand-embroidered by the artist with phrases and motifs that reflect on matrilineal inheritance, grief and queer identity. The tablecloths, invested with the communal labour of their makers, become a proxy for communion and conversation with a lost loved-one. Though held in a different time and space, the objects bear the mark of intergenerational touch, knowledge and absence. The artist dedicates the work to her grandmother.

Historically crafted for Christian, Pagan and folk celebrations, Pajaki are a material manifestation of Polish tradition. Weaving together an archive of kitsch ephemera, some parts of which were found in secondhand markets in Brent, other parts in London and in Poland––from fake flowers to found film photographs and discarded scratch cards––Perlak’s Pajakis entangle these traditions with a queer aesthetic of abundance in order to make visible their complicated lineages.

In the context of rising homophobia brought forward by misguided nationalism and Catholicism in Poland, Perlak imagines these objects as queer talismans for stepping into spaces that might otherwise not always feel so welcoming. In the process, the artist alludes to the complex personal and collective archives from which identity is constructed, threading seemingly disparate influences that nevertheless meet, in the web of inheritance.

Three of the works (Jan’s Time, Dwelling Time and Kupala’s Time) have been aquired by the Arts Council Collection.

© 2021, Katarzyna Perlak