Just in time for Halloween, artist Katarzyna Majak has launched an exhibit titled “Women of Power.” This exhibit features portraits of Polish women who identify as Pagan or practitioners of witchcraft. Majak’s intimate photos evoke a dialogue about the treatment of powerful and subversive women throughout history. In the 15th century, the Catholic Church published the Malleus Maleficarum – basically a manual for identifying witches. The document sparked the killings of hundreds of thousands of women who were usually independent, outspoken, and successful in their roles as healers or midwives. More recently, the Catholic Church in Poland has taken a strong stance against abortion and equal pay for women.
While 95% of Poles identify as Catholic, the women in Majak’s photographs follow a historically marginalized spiritual path. The photographs remind us that women prevailed through the sexism of past centuries, and continue to push against the status quo. The photos remind us that subversive women have a rich history – for example, the solidarity movement that freed Poland from the Soviet Union was led almost entirely by women. During this season of evil witches in pointed hats, Majak’s exhibition gives such women a more realistic perspective. When I look at the photographs, I’m reminded that “witches” have a human face much like my own Polish grandmother’s.