Bigos, Artists of Polish Origin [1]

I also organised an open group of Anglo-Polish artists which had their first major exhibition in Brixton Art Gallery in August 1986. The group was open to any artist with a Polish heritage.

Advertisements in Artists Newsletter and Jewish Chronicle to attract artists outside our immediate London circle got a good response and the group grew from 12 to over 30 with more women than men. From then on the group itself became more important than the initial concept of a prestigious exhibition. (Szczelkun, 1987 p.88)

Each artist self-selected work for the Brixton exhibition, which was then hung by Andrjez Borkowski, helped by Kasia Januszko and Krystyna Borkowska. This inclusive and self curating mode continued through our future exhibitions. We went on to tour Poland[2] in 1989 and had a further eight shows around England.

Arts Council funding was awarded for a made-to-measure touring show. Work was to be selected or made to be site specific to each venue. The made-to-measure shows were hosted by the Watermans Art Centre at Brentford (1990); Cartwright Hall in Bradford (1991); The Huddersfield City Art Gallery (1992); and the Polish Cultural Institute in Portland Place, London (1998). These shows were accompanied by performances and workshops.[3]

The self-selection mode was difficult to maintain. It seems to contradict the prevailing ethos of curatorship. Groups do not self-select they submit to the objective eye of the professional curator. However the self-selection process has its own power in being able to represent an identity group on their own terms without mediation.

Collective work went on in meetings in which we not only talked and ate Polish culture but also did creative work together. The work of immigrant artists is a crucial part of the considerations of cultural assimilation, which are so necessary to all immigrant peoples. [4] It is hard to see where else much of this thinking could happen. In spite of our high profile exhibitions it was difficult to engage a critical discourse that was capable of supporting and validating this work. If I had not written and published a history of our formation I doubt if much record would exist of our activity as the only Anglo-Polish artists group of this period.

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[1] An earlier generation of Polish artists was called the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain. See, Contemporary Polish Artists in Great Britain (APA London 1983 102pp)

 

[2] The Polish shows toured from Sandomierz to Krakow, Pulawy, Pita and Warzawa.

 

[3] Bigos also showed in the Crypt Bloomsbury (1986), Worcester Art Gallery (1987), St Paul's Gallery Leeds (1988) and Abingdon Museum (1990). There is no published or archived record of these shows.

 

[4] See 'Polish Migration to Britain: war, exile and mental health', Michelle Winslow  (Oral History Journal, Spring 1999, pp 57-64). An exhibition based on this research was to have included 'Bigos' but the funding fell through. See catalogue titled Keeping the Faith (Sheffield galleries.org 2000)