“We’ve had enough!” “The revolution is female!” “Fuck PiS!”
These are some of the chants resounding through the streets and squares of Poland right now. Tens of thousands of protestors have been turning out every day since October 22, 2020, when a ruling by the Constitutional Court determined that abortions for fetal abnormalities violate the Constitution—a decision the ruling, right-wing PiS (Law & Justice) party claims cannot be appealed.
Prior to the shock announcement, Poland’s abortion law was already one of the most restrictive in Europe. The decision turns it into a near-total ban, in which terminations are only permitted in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the mother’s life. Critics have argued that this is a violation of human rights, and the latest example of the government and church leaders’ determination to push their ultra-conservative agenda.
Law & Justice originally tried to pass the law through Parliament in 2016 and again in 2018, but on both occasions it was forced to back down following mass protests and strong opposition from MPs. This time, it has exerted its considerable influence in the courts to push it through the constitutional tribunal.
Poland’s design community has been part of the country’s fight for true democracy for over a century, and today’s designers are showing no signs of letting up. Political poster initiative Pogotowie Graficzne (Graphic Emergency) was originally set up in 2016 in direct response to the abortion law and resulting “Black Protests,” and has since built up an archive of designs that have engaged with the issue over the past four years.
Studying this collection of highly expressive, rich-in-metaphor, and full-of-wit protest graphics, a powerful visual language emerges. Most striking of all the recurring elements is the lightning bolt, originally created in 2016 by Ola Jasionowska as the official emblem for Black Protest organizers Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (National Women’s Strike). The umbrella has also proven to be an enduring symbol of the protests, frequently incorporated into poster designs to draw people onto the streets and rally support for the cause. In yet more works, the female body is deconstructed, sliced up and repurposed in increasingly creative ways to question who really controls women’s bodies.
In between designing posters, attending protests late into the night and striking for their rights, seven Polish designers took the time to decode their work, give us an insight into the country’s prevailing mood, and share their thoughts on the situation in their own words.