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Who was Magdalena Abakanowicz? Polish sculptor honoured in Google Doodle

Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz has been celebrated with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 93rd birthday.

Widely regarded as one of Poland’s most internationally acclaimed artists, Abakanowicz gained global critical acclaim for her pioneering textile sculptures of the human figure.

She was part of a generation of artists whose childhood was heavily disrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

The design of Abakanowicz’s Doodle was described by Google in a blog post on Tuesday, June 20. Google wrote: “Is it a tapestry or a sculpture? When Magdalena Abakanowicz invented a brand-new branch of art known as “Abakans,” her woven fibre sculptures revolutionised the field.

“Today’s Doodle celebrates the Polish sculptor and multi-element artist.”

Who was Magdalena Abakanowicz?

From the time he was born in 1930, Abakanowicz lived a life of affluence, into a landowning family of aristocratic background whose lineage was said to go back to Genghis Khan.

However, her idyllic upbringing was uprooted at the outbreak of the Second World War. She was nine when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and her family spent years living on the outskirts of Warsaw, becoming members of the Polish resistance. In 1943, a drunken soldier shot her mother, causing her to lose her right arm.

Under the post-war communist doctrine, the Polish government officially decreed socialist realism as the only acceptable art form allowed to be created. All countries in the Communist bloc, including Poland, banned and severely controlled other styles of art that were popular in the West at the time, such as modernism.

After the war ended, in 1948 Abakanowicz began attending the High School for Plastic Arts in Gdynia. He received a diploma from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts in 1954.

Abakanowicz at the Tate (Embryology 1978–80, Tate)
Abakanowicz at the Tate (Embryology 1978–80, Tate)


She remarked, “I enjoyed sketching during my study hours, tracing lines by laying lines next to each other. The professor would appear with an eraser in his hand, erasing every pointless line from my work.” And used to leave a dry line, a thin shape in its place.

Abakanowicz’s early works were dominated by large gouaches painted on canvas, but when Poland’s government began to become more open-minded about art in the mid-1950s, she was free to experiment with new media.

Abakanowicz’s art began to change when he transitioned from welded steel to textiles, and the weaver Maria Laszkiewicz persuaded him to participate in the 1962 Lausanne International Tapestry Biennale.

A few years later, she started to create her own distinctive type of sculpture throughout the 1960s, turning fabrics into suspended, three-dimensional sculptures. The installations were given the name Abakans in her honour.

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Abakan Red, 1969 (Magdalena Abakanowicz, Abakan Red, 1969 (Magdalena Abakanowicz Foundation))
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Abakan Red, 1969 (Magdalena Abakanowicz, Abakan Red, 1969 (Magdalena Abakanowicz Foundation)


In 1965, Abakanowicz’s innovative approach was rewarded at the São Paulo International Art Biennale where her Abakans won her the top prize.

This is just one of the many honors he has received during his career. He also received the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta in Poland, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey, and an award for distinction in sculpture from the Sculpture Center in New York.

By the mid-70s she had developed the works which would go on to become her most recognisable – severed heads and headless bodies made from sacking.

Abakanowicz’s art has been displayed in museums and in Europe, America, Japan and Australia.

One of her collections called Agora, which is a group of 106 iron cast figures, enjoys permanent installation at Chicago’s Grant Park.

Abakanowicz died on 20 April, 2017 in Warsaw, Poland.

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