What does it mean to be different? How do we perceive others? It tells us everything about a society knowing how difference is treated within it. This will be the subject of a new exhibition at Fabrica the Brighton gallery, where I first began to write blogs as their artist in residence a few years ago. They/Onlar by Turkish artist Ipek Duben runs from April 8-May 29 2017.
This blog follows on directly from the last one where I spoke to writers I met in Poland about their experience of being different. Below is what 2 writers, Radek Wiśniewski, writer, poet, editor, founding publisher at Stowarzyszenie Żywych Poetów and cultural activist and Olgerd Dziechciarz, poet, prose writer and cultural activist had to say (translated from Polish). The title of this blog Chipboard (the wonderfully expressive paździerz in Polish – not least given three ‘z’s) was a word I discussed at length with Radek and translator pals. It was the cheap material used make furniture in Poland in the 1980’s. In the last year we have seen divisions between people deepen dramatically, yet in my social life these divisions don’t show up. Us and Them aren’t in contact. Is it different in Poland? Are people in opposing factions more bound up socially? That was my impression but it still shocks when chasms open. As over here, people I spoke to were focussed on surviving the current climate.
‘To be other doesn’t mean being at risk, for now at any rate but it’s already uncomfortable. And how long is for now? We think we’re the same and surround ourselves in good faith with like-minded people. That’s the illusion but it’s breaking up, the bubble is bursting. It turns out we differ in ways it was difficult to see until recently. For instance at a friend’s barbecue we went to with Małgosia last autumn: when conversation was flagging we turned to the latest news about refugees drowning at sea and were saying that if they do reach the shores of one or at most two countries and these countries aren’t coping, something needs to happen. We talked about Pope Francis himself calling on all Catholics to accept a family into each parish.
“Best thing to do would be to shoot at them and not miss.” said one person, a Catholic who had just sent their child for first holy communion. We looked at each other amazed waiting for some response from the other guests at this garden party of educated people, who’d worked hard, often earning money abroad, to build their small oases of family life.
“I’d go first, if you gave me a gun.” another father of the tribe joined in. The children were playing around us, singing along to Disco Polo.
“You told me to watch what I say about refugees and that we’re in a minority, but I didn’t believe you” said Małgosia on the way home.
It was getting dark. These same people will go to church on Sunday to worship a Jew, himself once a refugee from Egypt, his mother Miriam and father Yossef. These same people will gladly tell you about their community’s terrible fate throughout the great wars, migrations and exile. Yet the people who truly understand the legacy of the Polish people and of Poland are not the ones we met with at the barbecue. These are the inhabitants of some kind of Polandia, built on the ruins of Poland. They have settled for a sham, a shabby chipboard facade. Only I’m not sure whether the real Poland, as it once was, ever existed. Or is it that it exists only in the minds, the idealisation of a few individuals, foreigners, others. Like you. For now at any rate.’
‘Being different means being yourself. I don’t know if I’m different, but I try be all right with myself. I see how people bend over backwards, let themselves get bent out of shape in order to fit in – I’m fairly resistant to that. Once in the 80’s I belonged to a punk band, it was harder then to be yourself, or maybe it was easier, I don’t know anymore. Anyhow that was a formative time. Basically I try not to judge other people. In political matters I’m getting closer (again) to anarchism, a humane kind, similar to Kropotnik’s. In matters of poetry I know less and less. Or maybe I just know less and less generally. Not important. What’s important is that sometimes I host cool people, we talk about literature, we have a laugh, sometimes we have a beer or something stronger and life feels more bearable. The world is beautiful, people are beautiful, except for those who aren’t especially beautiful but – oh wonder of wonders – are the ones who claim the right to make decisions for us. And that’s the only thing which worries me. But maybe one day we’ll get together and drive them out. Yes, I still believe that.’
Next week the London Book Fair has its market focus on POLAND. Opportunities to hear more from Polish writers, what will be uppermost on their agendas?https://literature.britishcouncil.org/project/the-london-book-fair-poland-market-focus-2017