Alina Szapocznikow was a Polish artist, who produced ethereal-looking sculptures of disembodied female body parts. She worked primarily in bronze and stone and produced casts of her body and that of her adopted son. Her artwork evoked Surrealism, Nouveau Realisme, and Pop art.
When she was young, her father died prematurely in 1938 from tuberculosis. In 1940, her family – because they were Jewish – was interned in two Polish ghettos before being transported to Bergen-Belson where she and her mother worked in a camp hospital. Her experiences at the end of the war are unknown.
After the war, Szapocznikow trained as a sculptor in Prague from 1945-1946 and began working in a classical figurative style. She competed to create public sculptures of Warsaw heroes and victims of Auschwitz.
In the 1960s, Szapocznikow combined fragmented body parts with unorthodox materials such as polyester, polyurethane, resin, gauze, and paper to reveal the horrors of the Holocaust as well as to reveal her own disintegration from tuberculosis and cancer. And yet her work could still be comic and disconcerting. She made desk lamps with bright red lips on them and a cast of her own jaw with cigarette butts embedded in it.
Although she died at the young age of 47, she is remembered today as one of the first female sculptors to relate work directly to the female body. In 2012, her work was shown in a traveling retrospective, one of which was at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.