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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Wiktoria Kijowska

Wiktoria Kijowska is a design historian and a designer. Her research primarily focuses on Polish design history which she wants to popularise to English-speaking audiences. Wiktoria’s goal is to make design history more accessible to non-academic audiences and relevant to contemporary design and lives. 

Wiktoria’s journey with design history started during her undergraduate degree in BA Furniture and Product Design at Nottingham Trent University. There she was interested in how antiques (as at the time she did not even know the discipline of the history of design existed) can influence contemporary design practice. During her placement year, a cancelled internship led Wiktoria to dedicate all her time to developing her knowledge about antiques and the newly discovered field of design history. Her final year design projects were heavily influenced and inspired by this work. For example, Wiktoria designed and made a collection of flower vases inspired by the traditional Polish folk craft of cut-outs from Łowicz titled ‘Polish Folklor’. As the patterns found in this folk craft have been popularized and placed on many types of consumer goods, their history and meaning have been forgotten. The vibrant vases celebrate and bring back this forgotten history. The project even got featured on Dezeen, Aesthetica and at an online event where Wiktoria discussed the influence of traditional designs on her contemporary design practice.

During the MA History of Design course, Wiktoria continued to develop her specialism in Polish design history. Her design history work mostly focused on this geographical location, an area of research often overlooked by international audiences and under-researched in English. Her historiography essay explored 'The Changing Use and Meaning of Folk Arts and Crafts in Polish Design From the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present Day'. Through a rigorous research process, she was able to grasp a better understanding of the historiographical landscape of Polish design history, which became the foundation for her bigger research project - the dissertation. 

With a huge interest in furniture design and its history, Wiktoria’s object essay investigated and analysed a furniture piece from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Titled 'Émile-Jacques Ruhlamann's Dressing Table - A Window Into the Role of Imported Exotic Materials in French Furniture Production During the Interwar Period’, it raises questions about the choice of materials used to make this furniture piece as well as their origin and meaning. A summary of her research was published on Design History Society’s ‘Provocative Objects/ Spaces’ blog.  

Wiktoria’s dissertation was all about a not-so-well-known Polish piece of furniture, the tapczan-półka (couch-shelf). She investigated how is its design a symbol of post-war living conditions in Poland between 1945-1989 and how did the contemporary political regime impact its design, production, consumption, and mediation. In-depth research and analysis of primary and secondary sources found in the UK and Poland were completed. Wiktoria has worked rigorously and efficiently across two languages to create a cohesive, persuasive, and meticulously-researched academic argument. 

She is keen to get non-academic audiences to engage with and understand design history and its importance in our contemporary lives. Therefore her work is not just academic but also creative, producing interesting synergies between both of her specialisms. Wiktoria is making design history a public-facing practice in multiple ways which you can read more about below. 

Wiktoria’s passion for the popularization of the history of design and antiques as well as making them more fun and engaging now became her career. She continues to create content, such as photographs, infographics, and videos, curate exhibitions as well as write articles about various topics, ranging from how to combine the antique and the contemporary to menstrual products in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum!

With my work, whether academic or creative I want to make design history and antiques more fun and engaging. I take a bold and fresh approach to spreading their importance with others, especially younger generations. I think design historical topics are very overlooked aspects of the design process and our everyday lives, so my work is heavily based on exploring how they could be transformed and used in a contemporary way. I create educational products and content to highlight forgotten histories and show how they are relevant and significant in modern times.

Shot of the Black Botanicals: The Root of Caribbean Medicine exhibition
Photograph of the 'Black Botanicals: The Root of Caribbean Medicine' exhibition space taken by Shi Tianxiang.

During her time at the RCA, Wiktoria together with Jade Lindo, Lucy Roche and Sophie Seeyave (fellow MA History of Design coursemates) has co-curated an exhibition titled ‘Black Botanicals: The Root of Caribbean Medicine’. Hosted in the Royal College of Art's Hockney Gallery, the exhibition invited visitors to embark on a reflection on the themes of horticultural innovation, embodiment, and connection. The visitors could view botanical archives from the Bristol Museum and The New York Botanical Garden which were displayed alongside the work of Ellen Walker (illustrations) and William Farr (sculpture).

‘Black Botanicals: The Root of Caribbean Medicine’ drew on the impact of colonial expeditions and the natural resources attributed to indigenous knowledge. It considered the influence of illness in the production of botanical medicine, seated on the Caribbean shores from the eighteenth century to the present day. The exhibition was compiled within these sections: Dissolved Bodies, Folk Medicine: A Source of Healing, and Colonial Ties.

Wiktoria was involved in the exhibition's identity and layout design, interactive section design, and setup. Alongside this, she has designed exhibition labels, promotional materials, and a website. Watch her video to see the ‘behind the scenes’! 

'Black Botanicals: The Root of Caribbean Medicine' - Behind the Scenes

In January 2022, Wiktoria became the Design History Society Ambassador. She is responsible for the society’s social media channels and her tasks include content ideation, creation, and scheduling, enabling her to aid in the popularisation of design history on an international scale. 

She has written multiple blog posts for DHS’s ‘Provocative Objects/ Spaces’ series including ones about the RM58 armchair by Roman Modzelewski, the pink razor, and the Bacchantes vase by René Lalique

Wiktoria has also developed, organised, and co-convened a virtual seminar series - ‘Folk’ Cultures in Everyday Objects. The event explored how folk cultures inhabit the design and production of everyday objects critically assessing how and why these intersections operate around the globe. Her tasks included the selection of speakers from submitted abstracts, contacting speakers, and creating promotional materials such as the event programme and website. During the six sessions, 28 scholars as well as designers from around the world presented their research, and around 300 people signed up to attend the event. 

Examples of work done by Wiktoria for the DHS
Examples of work done by Wiktoria for the Design History Society.

Wiktoria was invited by the Museum of the City of Łódź in Poland, to take part in a panel discussion about the achievements of Roman Modzelewski - a Polish artist, designer, as well as teacher and the contemporary reception of his work. During the event, there were also presentations done by renowned Polish and international scholars and designers such as Anna Maga, Czesława Frejlich, and Jana Scholze. 

Her talk was titled 'Design, nostalgia, and the meaning of the RM58 armchair in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum'. With a fresh perspective, she talked about why it is important to remember people, ideas, and objects from a bygone era and how the idea of nostalgia helps us to connect the past with the future.

Wiktoria presenting at the Museum of the City of Łódź in Poland
Wiktoria presenting at the Museum of the City of Łódź in Poland. Photograph taken by the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Wiktoria uses her social media channels and website to share her discoveries, work and knowledge related to design history and antiques with a wider audience. Follow Wiktoria to discover more!

Wiktoria's Instagram page.

Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize