Polish Treasures: Migration through the lens of art

Polish Treasures in Action

Hear about this collaborative poject and view moments from the "Collective Care" event at The Hunterian Museum involving Polish-born artists.  (November 2021)

The Hunterian and Archives & Special Collections at the University owoodcut print, black ink on paper, showing a female figure standing with face in profile looking down. there appear to be multiple arms raised above her head and one stretched out in the direction of her gaze.f Glasgow host an impressive and varied selection of objects created by Polish artists throughout centuries – these items either migrated to Scotland themselves being acquired or gifted to the host collection  or were created in Scotland by artists of Polish origin who settled in Scotland. They include paintings, prints, crafted objects and archival materials documenting more ephemeral performances.

The objects in the Hunterian collections reflect the movement and the settlement of people in Scotland. Understanding of this process is of particular importance as over the last few decades the UK foreign born population more than doubled – it increased from 3.8 million in 1993 to 9.5 million in 2019. (1)  According to NRS Scotland in 2019 7% of Scotland’s population were non-British nationals. Of them, 64% (237,000) were EU nationals and the biggest national group was Polish. 97,000 Polish citizens were living in Scotland in 2019. (2)

In my project I focus on selected Polish works in The Hunterian and Archives & Special Collections to explore Polish migration to Scotland through the lens of art.

At a museum event on November 2021, I invited audiences to join me, Marta Adamowicz and Monika Smekot in using the creative processes to explore woodcuts created by Janka Malkowska (1912 – 1997), and the Anglo-Polish Ballet performances documented in the programmes of the Alhambra, King's Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre respectively.


This project builds on Shklovsky’s perception that ‘art exists in order to give back the sensation of life’, that ‘art is the means to live through the making of a thing’ (3) and that in the process of experiencing an artwork the viewers are able to gain deeper insights into the experience that led to creating it, build connection with ‘the other’. My aim is to invite museum visitors to participate in what Ingold describes as ‘the creativity of the productive processes that bring the artefacts themselves into being: on the one hand in the generative currents of the materials of which they are made; on the other in the sensory awareness of practitioners’. (4) I hope that it will facilitate new relationships with the artworks in the Hunterian collections and inspires new perspectives from which migration could be approached.

Encouraging Learning Through Art

In sprong 2021 this project joined forces with that of a Museum Studies Applied Dissertation project by Emma Hardy MSc. Working with The Hunterian's Education Manager, Ruth Fletcher,  Emma explored ways of using the Collections Management system, EMu, to collate museum objects under different learning themes, using a tool called "Narratives". This project forms the focus of  the Malkowska works into an online learning resource, grouped under various headings that would connect with Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence outcomes.  The aim is not to teach or impart information, so much as to encourage discussion and debate through the lens of art.  The resource is a work in progress which will continue to be developed.

View the DRAFT online learning resource- Polish Art: Janka Malkowska

Top left detail and main image: Janka Malkowska, "Petrushka's Ghost", (GLAHA:50824) 1982, woodcut, ink on paper.
Top Right: Joseef Herman, "Two Miners" (GLAHA 17874) 1930 - 1962, print, lithograph , ink on paper

Dobrochna Futro and Collaborators

Dobrochna Futro is an SGSAH AHRC DTP funded doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow. In her PhD project, she explores multilingual practices of contemporary artists who engage with languaging in migratory contexts and explores their potential for language pedagogy. She is currently employed in the role of research assistant in the RSE funded ‘How to talk about migrations? Current Academic Research in Migration Studies and its Relevance for School Curriculum in Scotland and Further Afield ’project led by Dr Mirna Solic with Dr Elwira Grossman and Dr Lavinia Hirsu. Before she started her PhD Dobrochna completed an MA in Polish Philology at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland and an MA in History of Art at UCL, London, UK. She has a professional background in the visual art sector.

Monika Smekot is an independent video and dance artist based in Glasgow, weaving together her practice in dance and cinematography. Her training in contemporary dance and various other dance styles and techniques gives her an ability to read and understand the movement for the camera. Her strong interest in dance improvisations helps her continuously look for new points of view for the camera. Monika has worked as a performer with various choreographers and has also produced her own work. Together with Iraya Noble she co-created a dance theatre ‘un dó’, which focused mainly on screen dance. She has produced short dance films, experimental films, documentations of creative processes and interviews. She has curated series of dance films screenings, organized by The Work Room and screened at CCA. She is very enthusiastic about supporting independent artists, which led her to create POZAproject - a platform that facilitates focused research in and between the fields of dance/movement/ sound/ video and performance. Monika is also a mother of two little children. For more details please visit:  www.monikasmekot.org

Marta Adamowicz is a visual and sound artist and illustrator of a Polish origin, based in Glasgow, dealing mainly with social issues. Her artwork has been a part of an RGI exhibition (2017), Clydeside Annual exhibition 2017 (considered for best in the show), Society of Women Artists Open 2018 in Mall Galleries, London, RSA open 2018 and SSA 2018. Her sound work has been showcased on many platforms around Scotland, including Glasgow International festival 2018, Transmission gallery, Radiophrenia Glasgow, and Radio Borealis festival in Bergen. She has received the An Talla Solais award on the RSA Open exhibition in 2018, which resulted in a residency in the summer of 2019. She's currently focusing on working with recycled materials and raising awareness of environmental issues.For more details please visit: https://martaadamowicz.wordpress.com/


Research Footnotes

  1. New research insights into the experiences of migrant populations in the UK talk, University of Liverpool, 21 January 2021, led by Carine van der Boor, Jessica Deol, Ross White.
  2. Non-UK population of Scotland remains broadly stable over most recent year, https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/news/2019/non-uk-population-of-scotland-remains-broadly-stable-over-most-recent-year accessed 15/14/2021
  3. Viktor Shklovsky, Viktor Shklovsky: A Reader, ed. & trans. by Alexandra Berlina (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2016), p.80.
  4. Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, 1st edition (London ; New York: Routledge, 2013).