Warsaw, Poland – Poland’s artists, celebrities and opposition politicians are posting photos of themselves eating bananas with the hashtag #BananaSelfies to protest the National Museum’s decision to remove from display an installation of an artist suggestively eating bananas, deemed obscene by the conservative authorities. A banana-eating protest is also planned later today in front of the state-run museum.
According to the Associated Press, Jerzy Mizioek, the new head of the National Museum in Warsaw, believes that the art piece by artist Natalia LL showing a young woman eating a banana with great pleasure can be harmful to young people. He announced its removal after he was summoned to the Ministry of Culture.
But the #BananaSelfies debate has roots that go further than a simple work of art.
Since the nationalist-Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in 2015, arts and cultural censorship in Poland has been increasingly criticised.
In 2017, European film producers and filmakers, including the head of the European Film Academy, Wim Wenders, voiced their outrage over the sacking of the head of the Polish Film Institute, Magdalena Sroka, by Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, which prompted street protests in Warsaw.
Earlier that same year, students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw protested the closing of Eufemia, a café located in the basement of the school which was a popular spot among students but also art circles in the Polish capital.
In fact, for Roman Pawłowski, one of Poland’s most significant theatre critics and culture journalists, the ruling party’s current cultural policies, supposedly aimed at “strengthening communal bonds”, is actually undermining openness, tolerance and creative freedom, which were the foundations on which Polish cultural and social life were built on after 1989.
According to him, unlike Civic Platform (PO), which ruled Poland from 2007-2015, PiS believes in the communal power of culture and sees it as a tool to bind the nation together, to build its identity and to restore national pride and dignity. Pawłowski claims that, since being elected and under the impetus of Piotr Glinski, the right-wing has taken over cultural institutions, such as Book Institute, the most important institution for Polish literature, and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (IAM), a key institution for promoting Polish culture abroad, altering programs diametrically and replacing employees.
More worryingly, PiS chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, has further argued that culture should not simply serve as a national communal adhesive, but as a tool for political change in the whole of Europe, echoing Viktor Orbán’s call for a cultural revolution as the only alternative to the current crisis in the EU.
Time to get your bananas, folks.