“They wanted to make us disappear from the public eye, but much to their surprise, their propaganda actually brought us together.”
Many of your personal projects come with a semi-documentarian approach. What does visibility mean to you?
I live in Poland and we’ve had the same rightish government for the last eight years. And they are not in favor of LGBT rights, to put it mildly. They hate us. When they came into power, we knew that the community will face serious problems. They wanted to make us disappear from the public eye, but much to their surprise, their propaganda actually brought us together. It kind of opened the eyes of many people, realizing that we have much to lose. I think we became louder, stronger, and more visible. And we have been fighting for our rights ever since.
The LGBTQIA+ topic is on constant rotation in government media outlets, but this kind of awareness kind of backfired for them. Eight years ago you couldn’t see a single LGBTQIA+ flag anywhere except maybe in a gay bar. After almost a decade of propaganda, they are everywhere, on shops and balconies across cities.
Do you think that this propaganda is a clash between the LGBTQ community and the government or the community and the general population?
It’s the government’s narrative. And I don’t think they are only facing the LGBTQ community, but the Polish people.
You are in the industry for over 12 years now. Can you tell us a little bit about the times when you were doubting yourself, your abilities, or your work and how you cope with that?
When I feel the urge to change things in my life, that usually means that I need to change my surroundings and the place I’m living in. After graduating I first moved to Krakow before making my way to the capital and changing cities for the second time was an excruciatingly slow and painful decision to make. It really felt like I’d abandon a life that I just started building there. I wasn’t ready for this and ended up postponing my plans. Looking back now, I lost two valuable years to doubting my decision.
Later on, as I started working with different artists, and studios in Warsaw, it gave me the skillset and the confidence that comes with it to trust my instinct more. I started getting recognition and jobs. Since there were people telling me that what I’m doing is good, I too started to believe in myself. I do a lot of commissioned work these days, but the best feeling is still when someone wants to buy a print from me to hang on the wall in their home. Every time that happens, it feels like I’m in heaven.
What would be the best piece of advice that you could give to someone who is struggling to live out their identity?
If you feel like you need to change something in your life, but you are unsure if people around you would approve of it, just do it. Many people have a hard time making decisions, I know, because I’m one of them. But it’s very much like getting out of a toxic relationship: if deep inside you know that things just ain’t right, that you are not happy, you should remember that life can fly by very fast. And if you recognize that you want to feel, you want to live differently, you’re already halfway through the work. So keep going and trust your inner voice.
I was born in a very small town in southern Poland, a place I was ashamed of for many years. But when I grew older, this changed and my hometown turned out to become my hereditary, a source of inspiration and a part of my identity. It helped me realize that everything that I’m doing is about changing the perspective for others and for myself, too.
This interview with Krystian Lipiec is part of our special The Hidden Dimension, celebrating queer identities in all their beauty. Check out the cinematic portrait of Warsaw-based photographer and visual artist Leo Maki on Nowness.