Monika Drożyńska: Resistance Embroiderer

Photo Story
A blue sign with text on it Description automatically generated
Latte Capitalizm, hand embroidery on cotton, 8×14 inch

Polish artist Monika Drożyńska brings her resistance embroidery to a New York audience in a solo show at Open Source Gallery and her Urban Embroidery project. The connections she makes with words within many different languages are a dexterous game of text and symbols on fabric, an adept study of transformative change for a better world. Polish curator Bartek Remisko, speaking about the work, said, “Embroidery can be about threads that bring us together to create social change.” Remisko’s insight speaks to Drożyńska’s focus on embroidery techniques in contemporary art and textiles in public spaces to further the collective conversation and play with conventional expectations.

As a visual artist and embroiderer activist with a PhD in Fine Art from the Academy of Fine Arts, Krakow, Poland, Drożyńska‘s work starts and ends with her interest in language. When sharing insight into her approach, she references the Walter Benjamin quote, “It is the translator’s task to release in his language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.” Her resources consist of thoughts she finds in varied places in many languages. No source is too refined or rudimentary. She begins each work with an open mind to translate what she sees, stringing together these found thoughts into new collective stories. In this work for a New York audience, she also pulls from Polish and American history, from past tragedies to complex current events.

Open Source Gallery, Latte Capitalizm: Letters as a Source of Resistance (installation detail)
Hunger/Exit, hand embroidery on cotton, 63 x 87 inch

In Drożyńska’s smaller works from the 2015-present series Silver and Gold Thoughts, she picks up words and sentences from everyday life, the media, the internet, and overheard conversations to transform and ‘transcribe’ them with hand embroidery onto fabric. This work, made specifically with a New York audience in mind, paraphrases popular expressions. For instance, Limit Is The Limit refers to the popular expression that the sky is the limit, meaning that you can achieve anything if you want it – which is unrealistic nonsense to her.

Like the work, the show’s title, Latte Capializm: Letters As A Source of Resistance, travels within the rules of communication from multiple sources. Latte Capitalism is a play on Late Capitalism with noted adjustments. Latte, a play on the word Late with a double TT, is a careful reference to Poland’s post-war history. When Poland was behind the Iron Curtain, people with double letters in their surnames changed them to single letters because, to the Soviets, a double letter in a surname meant aristocracy. The word Capializm, by replacing the S with a Z, refers to military symbolism.

Open Source Gallery, Latte Capitalizm: Letters as a Source of Resistance (installation detail). Photo credit: Stefan Hagen

The show also includes work from Drożyńska’s Tablecloths series. Each more than 6.5 feet piece is a hand-embroidered essay on seemingly wildly different topics like migration, animal relations, language, and German laundry detergent that come together to support her themes. She employs different aspects of ideology often hidden under ordinary and natural phenomena. In her black-and-white work Coffee And Telephone, she enlists two everyday necessities we cannot imagine without in late capitalism life that also exist as byproducts of colonialism and slave labor. 

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American Dream Is Dream, hand embroidery on cotton, 22×34 inch

Monika Drożyńska’s approach to her work is also an act of empowered feminism. Writer and post-structural feminism theorist Hélène Cixous implored women in her essay The Laugh of the Medusa to be thieves of language to tell their stories, and Drożyńska enthusiastically steals. A little from Freud, a little from Walter Benjamin, Chinese medicine, conventional psychology, a little from Kabbalah, tarot, and pop culture. Her work is an expression created from fiction, life experience, imagination, and embroidery.

Which Ariel is better?, hand embroidery on cotton, 63 x 87 inch

For Monika Drożyńska, embroidery is primarily a writing technique, a form of documenting, recording, and transcribing. She refers to her work as ‘written in embroidery,’ situating it between informal handwriting and privileged printing. With this approach, her work addresses questions about our collective and individual voices and recontextualizes the answers.

Urban Embroidery project, Limit Is The Limit, New York City, 2024

Concurrent with her solo show at Open Source Gallery, Monika Drożyńska also brought her Urban Embroidery project to the streets of New York. Originating in the Polish cities of Kraków, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Legnica, and Opole and pulling from her street art origins, Drożyńska’s site-specific works place reproductions of her resistance embroidery in strategic places to share her carefully considered messages with a New York audience.

Monika Drożyńska, Latte Capitalizm: Letters as a Source of Resistance, Open Source Gallery, April 13 – May 24, 2024, 306 17th Street, Brooklyn

About the writer: Michele Jaslow is a pioneer shaping the current visual arts landscape in Brooklyn as a NYC-based independent curator and writer. @radarcurator