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Art in the Mail: Wisława Szymborska’s Cut-and-Paste Postcards

Wisława Szymborska's cut-and-paste postcards cover
A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard (detail). Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Women Artists

Art in the Mail: Wisława Szymborska’s Cut-and-Paste Postcards

Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012) was a Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet, but she was also an occasional artist. Her main medium was quirky cut-and-paste postcards (or wyklejanki) that she would create once a year and send to family and friends.

Wisława Szymborska's cut-and-paste postcards
A Wisława Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Wisława Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcards are simple but imaginative collages made from a few different images pasted onto postcard-sized pieces of thick paper. The images, which sometimes include words in Polish, mainly come from vintage newspapers and magazines. Many of her collages are funny and ironic, like a woman playing tennis with a man’s tiny head as a tennis ball. She combined images of differing sizes, color schemes, and styles, such as an oversized human mouth pasted onto a picture of a cat. Some of Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcards use images from works of art. For example, one collage shows the princess from Velázquez’s Las Meninas in a grassy field with sheep. Sometimes, the message seems quite clear, but more often, the postcards express a strong but unidentifiable irony.

Wisława Szymborska's cut-and-paste postcards
A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Symborska started making her cut-and-paste postcards in the late 1960s. She claimed that her motivation was the simple fact that she couldn’t find any nice postcards to buy, but this seems unlikely. On the contrary, she must have spent a lot of time and effort creating the perfect design for each of her intended recipients. Only select people – those she believed would really appreciate them – received Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcards in the mail.

Wisława Szymborska's cut-and-paste postcards
A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Many commentators have linked themes in Wisława Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcards to those in her poems and noted the collage-like nature of some of her poems. There’s a strong element of kitch to her postcards, and commentators have also suggested that Symborska turned to postcards to express ideas that didn’t easily fit into the more serious poetry that she was admired for.

Wisława Szymborska's cut-and-paste postcards
A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Szymborska’s cut-and-paste postcards have been used as cover images for published books of her poems. Additionally, they have recently attracted interest separate from her poetry, particularly since her death in 2012. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow (MOCAK) held an exhibition of them in 2019. Along with the exhibition, a bilingual exhibition catalogue in Polish and English includes essays, interviews, and a selection of the postcards.

A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

To learn more about Wisława Szymborska, visit the Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej online. Many thanks to the Fundacja and MOCAK for their assistance on this article.

A Wisława Szymborska cut-and-paste postcard. Courtesy of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej.

Sources:

  • Potocka, Maria Anna et al. Wisława Szymborska: Kolaże Collages. Krakow: MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, 2019. 2nd ed.

Alexandra believes that enjoying the art of the past is the closest she can get to time travel, only much safer. When she’s not being an art historian, she can usually be found ice skating and dancing. Visit her at ascholarlyskater.com.

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