Wednesday 1 February 2023

Diana Forester


Occasionally I work as a gallery technician, which is a job I love. Over the last few days I have had the opportunity to work with colleagues and the artist Diana Forster, setting up her art installation 'Somewhere to Stay' which will be on display at Kirkcaldy Galleries, 4th Feb-14th March. These are images from her piece, 'Cabbage patch'.

Diana’s mother Anna, told her about life in the labour camp. The inmates were starving, while the guards grew cabbages, which the detainees were not allowed to eat. The young inmates would crawl on their hands and knees under the fencing at night to nibble the cabbage leaves. The guards assumed it was just animal damage and no one was punished. 

The beauty of the cabbages in this artwork is what strikes most viewers first; but the spent cartridge cases underneath, jar with the cabbages’ delicate charm, prompting closer inspection and so the meaning of the piece starts to unfold. 

This exhibition tells the story of Diana's mother Anna, a young Polish girl driven from her home during World War II, and her long journey from a forced labour camp in Soviet Russia to sanctuary in Iran, Tanzania and finally the UK. This art installation is designed to generate fresh conversation about forced migration in the 21st century. 

Anna Sokulska Forster and her family lived in a modest house on a small holding with some animals, crops and fruit trees in a village called Lasków, north east of Lwów (Lviv). Between the two world wars, Lviv was in Poland; but the border between Poland and Ukraine gradually moved westwards, as Russia annexed new land, and by 1939 Lviv had been brought into the Soviet Union as part of Ukraine. This proved problematic for Anna’s family. Her father had been given the small holding as a reward for fighting with the Polish forces against the Russians in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1921. The Polish army had achieved an unexpected victory in stopping the Soviets from taking communism west into Europe. Anna’s father’s involvement meant that he was on a list of suspected ‘enemies’ of Russia, marked out for immediate deportation to a prison camp in Siberia. This would mean leaving the family home forever.

A home is so much more than a building with walls, windows and furniture: it is a foundation for life, a place that grounds and prepares us for the wider world, and (for most people) also a place of security and comfort to retreat back to when we need to ‘go home’. Displacement robs forced migrants of all of that, and too much more besides.

It is an exhibition that has great beauty that reflects on the horrors of war; with bold prints, subtle shadow work and an incredible cabbage patch in a bed of bullets.

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