I was born in Warsaw but raised in a small town in the West of Poland called Boleslawiec, also known as Bunzlau, which is quite close to the German-Czech border and is known for its distinctive ceramic decoration. It's a small town, probably 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. I was a teenager when Poland joined the EU and quite a lot of people left. I remember it as a town with just children, old people, and single mums because everyone else who could’ve left to work somewhere that paid better, did so as soon as it was possible. I had left Poland on occasions when I’d go to work in other European countries over the summer and then return home for school or university during the academic year. I would spend all of my summers in the Netherlands or Germany, working picking strawberries or tulips, or working in horrible cafes. But I officially moved away in 2015.
In terms of how this influenced my art, I started seeing the country I came from through more of a nostalgic lens. It has changed so much since I left and now when I return it’s almost unrecognisable to me. I grew up during the change from communism to capitalism which was quite a weird, surreal time especially since I was so far from the city centres where people knew more about what was going on. I feel like if you grew up in a small town in Poland in the 90s you felt quite forgotten and confused most of the time, no one really addressed the issues we were all experiencing. And now it's strange to go back because people who were children in the 90s don’t really have the negative connotation towards communism or socialism because we were babies; we don’t remember it. It can be quite frustrating talking to your parents or grandparents who have more of an experience of it and have a more negative reaction. Young people don’t have much of an association, however I still remember growing up and seeing the remnants of the previous system crumbling around me.
It's hard to explain my emotions when I arrived here in the UK. Polish people have this desire for their country to be perceived as normal. I remember my mother’s happiness that communism would lift Poland up to the heights of the West. ‘We’re going to be a normal country!’ she would say. ‘We’re not going to be weird anymore. We are going to rejoin the West. We’re going to have Disney Land and Coca Cola and everyone’s going to wear jeans all the time!’. It was strange coming to the UK and interacting with people who really don’t see Poles as normal. I have had people ask me if we have electricity, if we know how light switches work, if we have bears in Warsaw. I mean we do have wild boar but not bears! (laughs) It was weird realising first-hand that there is this othering of Eastern Europeans in the West.
Polish people pride themselves on being Central European. ‘We’re not like those Eastern Europeans to the East of us!’ they would say. There were two ways that people my age would respond to this divide. One was to act super normal. To remind ourselves that Poland was a Western Christian country that speaks English really well. I full-heartedly embraced the other option. The Eastern European label. I dressed up in tracksuits, did loads of squats, started listening to hard bass music and going to raves in the woods. I embraced the squatting slavs in tracksuits iteration of pan-slavism!