Magdalena Abakanowicz For Adolescents

Outline of a figure on a trunk.

Figure on a Trunk


Magdalena Abakanowicz

Polish, 1930-2017

Subject: Voice and identity

Activity: Create an autobiographical drawing

Materials: Pen or pencil and paper

Vocabulary: Identity, figure, symbolism


Magdalena Abakanowicz is from Poland. She was raised there during the violent and oppressive period of World War II. Many of her works deal with issues surrounding repression and individuality. This sculpture is a bronze casting of a headless figure. Abakanowicz makes many works like this one, which are displayed alone or in large groups. These works are often missing parts of their bodies. Sometimes the figures are headless, and sometimes they may be missing their hands or feet. Abakanowicz uses the removal of body parts to symbolize what the figures may be thinking or feeling. When the artist removes certain body parts she limits the figure’s ability to do certain things, like think, speak, walk or feel.


Why do you think the artist chose to make this figure without a head?

What information about the figure do we lose as a result of the missing head?

What events might the artist, who lived under an oppressive regime in Poland, experienced during WWII?

Being headless, the figure cannot talk or think. What are the implications of not having a voice?


Using pen or pencil on paper, make a symbolic timeline of your life. Make a list of the most important things about you, such as life events and your interests. Think about what you would tell someone if you were being introduced for the first time. See if you can develop symbols for each of these items. How can you represent events and ideas visually, without words or numbers? Arrange them so that they effectively tell a story about you without using words.


Identity -- the distinct characteristics and personality of an individual

Figure -- a human shape

Symbolism -- representing an idea or concept through images