Visual Arts

EXHIBITION REVIEW: ‘Migrants Dream’ at POSK – a comprehensive insight into post-war Polish émigré art

Rating:

December 20, 2016

unnamedCurrently on view at the POSK gallery in Hammersmith is the exhibition Migrant’s Dream, organised by The Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK in cooperation with the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain.

In the words of its curator Wiktor Komorowski (PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art) the topic of migration – and the response to it by Polish artists who have either at some point lived or are currently living, in the UK – is extremely relevant right now, especially in view of Britain’s recent decision to leave the European Union:  migration and its longterm effects were amongst the most influential factors behind the majority of the ‘leave’ votes. The location of the gallery connects to the show’s ideas and questions in a poignant way, forming part of London’s Polish Cultural Institute, whose entrance doors were notoriously sprayed with racist words just a few days after the Brexit vote.

Detail from artwork by Janina Baranowska

Detail from artwork by Janina Baranowska

The exhibition is hosted in an inviting, compact space, with a neat, chronologically arranged display of seventeen artworks allowing the viewer to get a comprehensive insight into the developments that have taken place in the Polish émigré art scene since the aftermath of WW2. It brings together paintings, graphic and video art by artists of different ages, some no longer alive and others still art school students, thus adding a layer of inter-generational disparity to the theme of how issues of migration and shifting identity have been dealt with by the Polish émigré community.

Some of the artists represented are those by now considered classics – like, for instance, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko and his students and fellow Group 49 members Janina Baranowska, Tadeusz Znicz-Muszyńsk and Halina Sukiennicka. They were educated both in Poland and the UK and moved to the latter at a conscious age, having already formed their identity in their home country but been forced to leave due to the turbulent – and often tragic – events of the time. Others, like Maciej Hoffman, are representative of artists living and working in a global context; he’s someone only recently transplanted to the UK to focus on his artistic career. Younger artists, such as Adam Gargulinski-Burks, were born here and are half Polish, or moved here at a young age (like Maciej Jędrzejewski)  thus providing their own understanding of what migration and cultural identity mean to them: aware of and inquisitive about their heritage, but never having fully shared their parents’ cultural background.

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Raya Herzig: ‘Outlook’ (2012)

The topic of dream was chosen because of its connection to the unconscious, thus allowing organisers to present these artists’ unhindered, personal reflections on the questions of identity, their forced or consciously chosen dislocation, their memories of their home country and thoughts about their current home.

Moreover, in the curator’s view, dreaming is ‘an organic and universal human experience, shared regardless of cultural divisions’, thus highlighting the ability of these responses to transcend any particular cultural context and underlining, first and foremost, their emotional relatability.

In this respect, the reviewer found Outlook by Raya Herzig to be one of the most fascinating works on view. A concentration camp survivor and someone who was displaced for many years, Herzig – moving between Sweden, Switzerland and the UK – never received any formal artistic training and started painting after having visited places related to her childhood years. Its tenderly sombre and enigmatic mood, with semi-figurative human shapes suspended in space around what appears to be a window  looking out on a moon-lit city landscape, allows for a variety of interpretations. Perhaps it’s both the fluidity of its meaning and the raw openness of the artist towards her viewer that makes it so deeply compelling.

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Migrant’s Dream is on view at POSK Gallery, 238–246 King Street W6 0RF, until 29th December.

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