Born in Białystok in 1980, Karol Radziszewski studied painting at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and is a co-founder of the art collective Szu Szu together with Ivo Nikic and Piotr Kopik. He is also the editor-in-chief and publisher of the DIK Fagazine, billed as “the first and the only artistic magazine from Central and Eastern Europe concentrated on homosexuality and masculinity.” In this monologue, which originally featured in the summer issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, Radziszewski discusses his landmark publication and what it means for queer Poland. Original interview conducted by Louise Brailey and A. J. Samuels.
Homosexuality in Poland is a heated issue. The country is very conservative, with more than ninety percent of Poles declaring they’re Catholic. Every Sunday, the priests in the churches teach that gay people are devils, which influences the political situation. In 2005 there was even a proposition preventing gay people from being school teachers. It was then that I decided that I had to do something, so I started DIK Fagazine, which is the only artistic magazine from Central and Eastern Europe concentrated on homosexuality and masculinity. When I founded the magazine, I was already interested in the idea of artists working in the public spaces, through interventions and so on, because I’d co-founded a guerrilla artist group called Szu Szu as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts. The idea was that we wanted to take art out of Warsaw’s galleries and into the city so we made a lot of actions and exhibitions in a surprising places. DIK Fagazine started small and grew; in the last issue we traveled around Eastern Europe covering different themes relating to gay life before the fall of communism: you have cruising areas described from the Serbian perspective, gay beaches in Estonia, the first gay zine from Gdansk. The same year that I started the magazine I staged the first openly gay exhibition in a private flat in Warsaw, a manifesto of sorts. I made prints, photographs, wallpapers, murals, videos, the magazine, just so it was done. I could move with more sophisticated issues, not just related to basic topics surrounding what it means to be gay. However, society has changed in the ten years since I started DIK Fagazine, but there’s still a lot of homophobia. In the beginning, I couldn’t find any gay photographers, so I asked straight photographers to take the pictures. It was funny to watch the straight guys in Poland trying to work out how a gay photo session should look. Sometimes my projects were too provocative for the gay community, even. People thought I was portraying a bad image, so there were times when I was against both the conservatives and the gay community.
A part of the remaining Dik Fagazine archive, bought from bookstores in the wake of the studio fire.
Last year, my studio burnt down and everything was destroyed: my paintings, my work and very sadly, my entire DIK Fagazine archive. I only have these copies because I went around and got them back from the bookstores. Nobody knows what happened but there are rumors that there was a real estate developer. Some of my friends thought it was because of my work but I didn’t think that way, still, it really made me realise what people thought about the situation! I get a lot of emails of course, my last video piece is me reading the letter from a guy praying for me. What’s more, Poland is very sex-phobic—we haven’t had the sexual revolution here. I still find it hard to get a model to be naked for the photographs. Adding queer issues on top of that? We just had a long discussion in the Polish parliament about the notion of “gender”. It’s crazy, they’re manipulating the words so “gender” issues pop up in relation to, say, pedophilia and the sexualization of children. As for the Fagazine, I always saw the word “queer” connected almost only with university studies, and that’s why I use the Polish words. Words like “Pedal”, which is very offensive, like “faggot”. We’re trying to provoke; to put queer politics into practice.
A Dik Fagazine football flag hangs in Karol Radziszewski’s new Warsaw studio.
Some people ask me if there’s a common experience between those who grew up under communism. I was born in 1980 and I actually think that the beginning of capitalism is a much more significant experience for my generation. The way that people started to believe in capitalism influenced everybody so much that we’ve lost the ability to think about it critically. It’s influenced everything: the fashion, the clubs, the cafes. Young people dress quite fancy in Warsaw but not because they want to express themselves. Rather, there’s a pressure that they have to show off. Five years ago, we had Europride gay parade here, and that was a crucial moment for me, because it made me realize there was no queer underground. Europride is a kind of gay pride colonization that’s supposed to bring the rainbow flag from Western countries to Poland. Suddenly the parties were just for gay men, and the tickets were super expensive. The main conference was about pink money—the purchasing power of the exclusive gay community. So we said, “Fuck off!” A group of us gathered in my flat, queer people from left to right, and we came up with the idea of creating an independent festival called Pomada. We put on one of the first parties which was totally fifty-fifty girls and boys and more than a thousand people came. In June will be the fifth edition. The central idea is that all of the organizers who work in art, music and culture would put our own money into it so that it would be completely DIY. Ultimately, this is really what we are trying to do: to push young people in Warsaw to just do it themselves. ~