Lilith is leaving

Urszula M. Benka

On Patrycja Dołowy's photographs

"Lilith is leaving" is a very special photography exhibit and a profoundly serious artistic challenge.


The title character derives from the least well-known and most mysterious foundations of Judeo-Christian culture. She does not appear in the canonical collection of stories, even apocryphal ones. Her reality is instead linked to the realm of dreams and the subconscious where she has been recognized.

Lilith, Adam's first wife who was rejected for her disobedience and lack of erotic submissiveness, was pained to leave him; she personifies a freedom that is deprived of day-to-day delights, which have become the privilege of her successor Eva. Lilith cannot give birth. She thus becomes immortal but also barren, her creativity wanes – or, like her symbol the moon, she has two contrasting aspects: one bright but cold and imitative (reflecting the energy of others, like an immense mirror thrust into the darkness of night), the other by its very nature invisible to anyone looking from an earthly perspective.

Lilith left Adam, she is a demon, sometimes she comes in terrible dreams and is then deadly. She targets sleeping infants, disrupts emotional harmony, and separates love-entwined lovers.For Patrycja Dołowy, the aspect of "barren femininity" or "empty creativity," a creativity that is invisible, transparent, hidden, and evades perception, is important because one seems to sense intuitively that this is the very nature of art itself. That beauty and form are for art like dresses and veils, sometimes cast off and changed. From behind the substance of beauty, the outline of a deeper significance peeps out.

I get the impression that this is precisely what this exhibit addresses: the motif of freedom and an ambivalent stance towards man (or even more broadly towards masculinity) are in a certain sense secondary here, despite the young artist's conscious graphicness and conscious views. Man really is portrayed in Dołowy's photographs as "The One Who is Bearing a Stone," triggering an association with the futility of Sisyphus' labors. Naked, with legs spread, in aggressive poses tinged with a grotesque hauteur. His head raised with dictatorial flair, a clenched fist melodramatically positioned on his heart, his concentration fixed upon his own phallus. He is also portrayed as the embodiment of Integrity and Disintegrity. He is therefore someone whom Lilith abandons essentially unknowingly, whom a woman of free spirit and mind cannot withstand to be with for long, because she quite simply surpasses him. But that is not the point. Gender alone is not the criterion here. The artist invokes the well-known debate initiated by feminists as to whether man is indeed creative or whether he contributed the germ that imparts to art, within the masculinized culture of the West, its barren traits: its neurotic inventiveness and impatience, its commercialization of creation, its reduction of beauty to prettiness. That is what is claimed by feminists, and Dołowy is aware of and excellently understands their argumentation.

However, in this exhibit she is above all an artist. She chose a distinctive color scheme, spot-ridden photographs with muddy hues. In essence they reconstruct the body and its transformation over time. The body ages, pales, grows flabby, tautens, sweats. It changes color in illness and emotion. Lastly, the body begins to shine if a ray of bioenergy shoots upon it. Then a halo can be perceived. In the section entitled "The She-Creator Who is not a Mother” the woman is set against the backdrop of a bare, dirty brick wall, where she is tightly bound up. She spreads her arms, flexing her body this way and that. Here freedom is obviously called into question, albeit without any ideological or even downright journalistic allusions. Rather, Patrycja Dołowy is savoring and attentively studying what happens to the psyche in such a state of captivity. So the spirit does crave to be appealing! It wants the despot (a man?) to succumb to her charms. Brilliant!

Lilith does indeed lay bare what may be irritating and shameful in the psyche, yet is real. Lilith gives us courage to defiantly explore deep into sallow, muddy, boggy, enchanted realms of the self that are not illuminated by any outside light, where we are alone – yet it is precisely here, as Dołowy shows in the section "About the two of them," we can find a second self and as if start to hear an dialog, rather than just an internal monolog. And here the world grows lighter in this very heart of darkness, while some kind of pools of brilliance, dreamlike deformations and symbols also emerge.

Whoever interprets a symbol does so at their own risk, in essence plunging their head deep into the symbolic muddy realms of their own tragicomic freedom.