‘At what cost’ is the working title for one of my current projects which explores the displacement and diaspora of my Jewish, Polish family.
My family came to England from Poland during the second world war and experienced significant predudism and challenges. Like many other families from across the globe my Nanna decided to change the family name to 'fit in' while in the UK and being a fairly flamboyant woman chose the name O'Hara (we can only assume that this was inspired by Scarlett in 'Gone with the Wind'!).
Two of the brothers in the family changed their name back to Gebicki when they turned 18, however, my mother and the last brother decided to keep the Irish surname, which I now have. When I asked my mum why she had decided to keep a name that she did not like nor connected with, she explained that being a woman throughout the 70s was hard enough and anything that she could do to not draw attention to herself had to be done. The other brother was gay and autistic so similarly, he also did not want to draw uneccesary attention to himself by displaying a forign name.
My mother gave me eight photographs from a small beautifully decorated box that belonged to her father and among the photos was a passport photograph that my mum had taken before I was born when she would have been in her mid-twenties. I could not get this image out of my head and when I saw it, for me, this photograph represented something very different, especially as it’s primary purpose was one of identification.
For the first time when thinking about my family history, I felt quite saddened by the name associated with this photograph, the name Helena Marya O’Hara written beside it on her passport. I felt very strongly that something that had been taken from her, that a part of her identity and sense of belonging was hidden from view to create a more socially acceptable individual. I felt compelled to rectify this mistake, this all together unnecessary process that had been thrust upon her without her consent, alongside the choice to keep the unwanted name due to her gender and the sad reality that being a woman with an Eastern European name brought too many complications at that time. I began to play with adding her original name underneath and I wanted to see how this changed our perception of the photograph and the face that we were looking at. How does the difference of a name change what is represented and how do we perceive identity and heritage when we apply a different name to the same face.
The book that I have been working on ‘Will you write and tell me soon please?’ has become an exploration of words and photography, considering how we engage with photographs as objects. I wanted to bring this out of the restrictions of the book and work with family archived images to create small sculptures. Many of these family photographs veil the sadness and hardship of diaspora and displacement and the memories associated with the images represent challenging experiences to the participant/s. These small paper sculptures aim to juxtapose this complex relationship through transforming them into a botanical form.