curated with Iona Fergusson
[Peckham 24, Copeland Gallery, London, 10 - 12 September 2021]

[photo credit: Leah Band]

In 2015, Poland elected a right-wing national-conservative government, significantly altering the social and political climate of the country. In the six intervening years, state legislature has passed increasingly draconian laws banning women’s rights to safe abortions and severely curtailing the power of the judiciary, the independence of the media, as well as the freedoms and rights of LGBTQIA+ communities. In response, Polish citizens have taken to the streets in their thousands to protest their anger. Strikes and mass public demonstrations have become an all too familiar feature of life in the country.

The Archive of Public Protests came to life during this maelstrom, emerging from a sense of duty to record and remember. Its collection of photographic images, documentary in nature, constitute a warning against the rising tide of right-wing populism and socio-political tensions characterised by increased incidences of xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, racism and inaction in the face of the climate crisis. This exhibition at Copeland Gallery presents visual traces of these street protests - the photographs on display a testament to the commitment and creativity of the protest movement. Powerful slogans, symbolic emblems, face and bodypainting, costumes, banners and flags come together as personal gestures of dissent and solidarity connecting citizen with citizen.

The archive Is the brainchild of photographer, visual artist and Magnum associate member Rafal Milach, who in 2016 first gathered together a group of photographers, activists, artists, sociologists to document the marches and strikes. The platform was launched by Milach alongside founder members: Agata Kubis, Adam Lach, Chris Niedenthal, Wojtek Radwański and Pawel Starzec. The collective now numbers eighteen contributors whose photographs comprise an impressive archive of up to 30,000 images. APP thus serves to ensure that the narrative of the protests can exist outside of state-controlled institutions and mainstream media. It further represents a shared act of solidarity with those who struggle daily against intolerance, injustice and violence.

Initially launched as an online image repository, the Archive of Public Protests has become a semi-open resource for writers, journalists, historians, sociologists, activists and students. In 2020, APP launched Strike 1, a newspaper dedicated to the Women’s Strike. Four successive newspapers have since been published documenting state and police oppression (Strike 2), the climate crisis demonstrations (Strike 3), LGBTQIA+ protests (Strike 4), and most recently Strike 5 dedicated to the political and human rights crisis in Belarus.

With thanks to all the authors at APP: Michal Adamski, Marta Bogdańska, Lukasz Glowala, Agata Kubis, Michalina Kuczyńska, Marcin Kruk, Adam Lach, Alicja Lesiak, Rafal Milach, Joanna Musial, Chris Niedenthal, Wojtek Radwański, Bartek Sadowski, Pawel, Starzec, Karolina Sobel, Grzegorz Welnicki, Dawid Zieliński.

The exhibition is curated by Iona Fergusson & Vincent Hasselbach