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Abakans – The New Humans of Magdalena Abakanowicz

20th century

Abakans – The New Humans of Magdalena Abakanowicz

I can see a group of approximately 250 people, all of them standing. Children and adults. I come closer and I realize they have no heads. I come even closer and I touch one of them. He’s soft but his skin is weirdly coarse…
It’s not a beginning to a horror. It’s a description of Abakans, unique sculptures created by Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Plecy / Backs, 1967-80

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Plecy / Backs, 1967-80

Abakans is a name derived from her surname and it describes her three-dimensional textiles which cease to be just textiles and receive a new life of a sculpture. Abakanowicz was a pioneer who transformed the idea of a textile as a two-dimensional object hung on the wall: “The Abakans irritated. They were untimely. There was the French tapestry in weaving, pop-art and conceptual art, and here there were some complicated, huge, magical (forms)…”, she said about Abakans. They may look scary or unnerving for their deformed shapes and big scale. Especially that they always come in series so they look like an army of aliens.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Crowd, 1988, Mucsarnok Palace of Exhibitions, Budapest, Hungary

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Crowd, 1988


Abakans are made from sisal fibre which at times is moreover dyed. Abakanowicz works the material with her bare hands: “There is no tool between me and the material I use. I choose it with my hands. I shape it with my hands. My hands transmit my energy to it. By translating an idea into a shape, they will always pass on something escaping conceptualisation. They will reveal the unconscious.”

Magdalena Abakanowicz 'Abakan Red', 1969 © Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Abakan Red, 1969

Abakans sometimes take very abstract shapes because as Abakanowicz admitted, she likes to change what she is working on: “I do not like rules and regulations. They are enemies of imagination”. Despite that, her creatures always refer somehow to the organic forms and nature. Even those dehumanized works question the nature of humanity, its place in the world and its condition, while her series also touch upon the theme of the role of a individual in the crowd.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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