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Powroty / Returns

29.06.2023 - 17:30 / Cricoteka, Szatnia Gallery, ul. Nadwiślańska 2/4

Jan Opielka (text), Katarzyna Opielka (text, curator), Marcin Oliva Soto (photos), Katarzyna Hordowicz (video), Dorota Krakowska (coordination), Kamil Kuitkowski (coordination)


Returns. Taming the Identity
Discovery through wandering, returning by leaving

Identity in the modern globalized world becomes a cycle of life, birth, existence, death, and return. When we can wonder, ask questions, and have an open dialogue with others, we start the process of shaping awareness, while providing a chance for the development of a hybrid identity. The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes it this way: “The thought of having an identity does not occur to people as long as they belong somewhere, as long as they have no alternative. Such thoughts can only appear in the form of a task that confronts us and which cannot be ticked off once and for all; each time you have to do it all over again.” The theme of returns in an attempt to understand Jewish identity is an essential link of the project’s ten protagonists and the ten motives of their individual returns to Jewishness.

Not without significance are the common heritage and relationship, as it is impossible to talk about the history of Poland and our identity without the history and life of the once multi-million Jewish community in Polish territories and the wider European dimension. In his text, Adam Bartosz, an ethnographer and guardian of Jewish heritage in Tarnów, takes us on a long journey to talk about the origin of the followers of Moses who came to the ‘Country upon the Vistula’ and how their attitude towards the places and people where they settled was shaped. Dr. Elke-Vera Kotowski, a cultural and political scientist associated with the Moses Mendelssohn Institute in Potsdam, outlines a broader European context which, among others, mentions the Jewish community’s individual self-determination initiated with the advent of Haskalah, an Enlightenment movement coined by the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. The desire of Jews for secular education and intercultural exchange was almost unstoppable.

The circulation of thoughts, ideas, and knowledge is still uncontrollable, also in the context of identity – people migrate, leave their loved ones, arrive in new places, and look closely at their identity. They discover, try, experiment, provoke or just want to be themselves.

The Third Quality – the meaning of meetings and conversations with the Other

By inviting a variety of people returning to Poland or seeking their Jewish identity to the project, people of different origins and experiences, with different world views and denominations, within the artistic team we jointly put together fragments of an elusive, fluid puzzle. A puzzle, not a jigsaw puzzle whose original pattern is already written down somewhere, imposed, while we only need to reproduce it. A puzzle is fluid, elusive, and mysterious, yet requires logical thinking. Such identity is still alive in us because we cherish the memory of our ancestors and common heritage, both material and intangible, brutally interrupted by the war and post-war events. It is exemplified in the numerous amazing projects, initiatives, and activities of many cultural and educational institutions/organizations which are run by specific committed and passionate people who care about common heritage.

Marta Maćkowiak, a genealogist, one of the protagonists of our exhibition, reveals how to discover your roots and how to tell the uncomfortable stories of your ancestors. Empty spaces left by Jews, both architectural and spiritual, resonate particularly strongly in an interview with David Miller, who came to Kraków two decades ago and feels more Jewish in Poland than in his native USA.

We can see the return to identity as a process of redefining oneself and finding one’s own history and herstory. All kinds of encounters with other people open up space and opportunities for us to re-interpret our own Self. And that is what Adam Ringer does. As he says, he has done at least two wise things in his life: 1. he left Poland in 1968, and 2. he returned 26 years later. Returns to culture and religion, to the roots of your relatives, were explored by Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland. His ancestors came from historical Galicia, in today’s territory of Poland. Nowadays, he himself contributes to the further revival of Jewish life in Poland, to the ‘return’ of that life to the Country upon the Vistula.

“The never-ending process of identity construction”

The “Returns” exhibition portrays five male and five female protagonists talking about their Jewish identity and their relationship with Poland. What do such people have in common, what have their life paths looked like, how do they form (and experience) their identity here and now in Poland, but also in the contemporary globalized world? The heroes and heroines of our exhibition show that it is ‘a never-ending process of identity construction’ about which Katka Reszke, a documentary film-maker and cultural expert, writes in her book “Return of the Jew: Identity Narratives of the Third Post-Holocaust Generation of Jews in Poland” (2013).

Helena Czernek, another figure in our exhibition, a designer and artist, has created a collection entitled “Broken Dishes”. Putting and gluing together broken bowls and plates so that they are ready for another, different use is a beautiful metaphor for looking at identity. What was once destroyed can become the basis of a new, different life and/or a kind of dialogue between one culture and another, between the past and future. It is all up to us.

The gathered conversations are presented in the form of in-depth interviews-portraits written by Jan Opielka, a journalist and columnist. The texts are accompanied by black and white photographs by Marcin Oliv Soto, a photographer and artist. The videos recorded and edited by Katarzyna Hordowicz, a camera operator, show ten protagonists. The life of modern nomads happens in migration, movement, therefore, we are not defined by the borders of countries and cities. Perhaps the common thread is looking for a new relationship with the place and people we come from, as well as being open in seeing and reading ourselves in the modern world. We want to encourage the visitors to freely discuss and learn about the unique experiences of belonging. Including their own.