When references to witch hunts crop up in contemporary texts or imagery, they often are meant to
serve as entertainment, anecdote or metaphor. It’s as if the wave of a magic wand has severed the
act from its monstrous, real-life dimensions, when such mass killings were, in fact, carried out
between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Researchers studying the phenomenon of witch hunts today plainly refer to them as murder,
emphasising that no one has ever been called out to take responsibility for the brutality of these acts.
It was, of course, women who were the victims of these trials, often burned at the stake, together
with their animals. The men who carried out the killing of tens of thousands of people have never
been made to account for these atrocities. The number of victims goes well beyond those who were
tortured and burned at the stake, as the fear of unfounded persecution meant that women lived in
widespread fear, forced to restrict their liberty even further to avoid unfounded suspicion.
The exhibition reveals the ways in which the archetype of the witch is continuously reborn within
the works of contemporary artists, both male and female. These works considers how those who
have historically inflicted mass executions on women have never faced any repercussions and how
that fact has impacted the lives of women today. How this history of persecution, torture and killing
has continued to echo throughout our culture in the way women are treated, particularly those
women who fall outside the bounds of the patriarchal structure that dominates.
What are the practical implications of this terror inflicted on women in the past and present? Why,
for example, are the victims of online abuse predominantly women and how does the hate
pervading the Internet relate to the idea of the ‘witch hunt’, an act that was carried out by men of
privilege to punish women who fell out of the line of the status quo?
The figure of the witch today is also subject to a new type of conflict. For some, she is a symbol of
a liberated woman, an icon of feminism. For others, she represents an example of the identification
of women with the stereotype of being unreasonable, unscientific, superstitious, or even,
excessively earthly and corporeal. In spite of the technological advancements of our age, popular
interest in magic has not changed. In fact, magic often serves as an escape from an overly
technological world, where contact is mediated through science and devices. It is also a channel for
standing against the negative effects of modernisation, which has led to climate change,
environmental catastrophe, and cruelty towards millions of humans and animals.
*The title of the exhibition cites an excerpt from a poem by Maria Jasnorzewska Pawlikowska,
titled ‘Rose Magic’. Pawlikowska was fascinated by spiritism and magic, which she reflected in her
poetry, replete with spells and witchery.