• Featured Artist
  • Joanna Raczynska

    There is a scene at the beginning of Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s haunting film, Katyn, that will always remain with me.  It is a conversation between two captive Polish army officers held in a Soviet detention camp awaiting their fates.

    good-faith-effort-4-featured-artist1The Lieutenant says to his Captain, “Buttons…that’s all that will be left of us.”  This is a tragic convergence of the pragmatic with the prophetic – as the film goes on to depict a fictionalized account of the true story of the 1940 massacre of some 12-15,000 Poles at the hands of the Soviets under Stalin.  And just as importantly, the film also depicts the propagandistic coverup and lie that was perpetrated by the Soviets for years to follow in which they claimed that the Nazis were responsible for this atrocity.   A difficult lie to refute with such a credible scapegoat.  And, an impossible position for Poland to be in – caught between two of the most infamous regimes of the twentieth century.

    I felt the need to see this film in order to have a deeper understanding of Joanna Raczynska’s films as subjects relating to Polish history and culture figure so prominently in them.  This is because her childhood was steeped in stories told by her Polish parents about living through World War 2 and post-war Soviet occupied Poland.  And the more significant fact that her maternal grandfather, a Polish Officer, was a victim of the Katyn massacres.

    detail image of the desk owned by Joanna Raczynska's grandfather, a silent witness to his execution by the Nazis

    detail image of the desk owned by Joanna Raczynska's grandfather, a silent witness to his execution by the Nazis

    In her works, Essential Chair and Signature of Things, she chronicles some of these stories in a highly personalized symbolic way – documenting her family history for herself.  In her interview, she says that these are very personal works and doesn’t believe anyone else will really take much away after viewing them.  I am not at all sure that this is true.  Both works explore her relationship with her parents, particularly with her father – specifically in Signature of Things. In this piece, she asks her then gravely-ill father to recall the story of his own father’s execution by the Nazis.  Relating to the loss of a parent is a universal experience which everyone can feel and identify with.  But hearing Joanna’s father describe the events surrounding the death of his father is both shocking and heart-wrenching.  This is something that really stays with you.  In her films Seeing Warsaw, The Philosopher’s Revision and Good Faith Effort, she explores the memories and dilemmas faced by individuals in post-War/post-Soviet occupied Poland.  She documents survivors talking about their experiences during the War and the subsequent Soviet occupation as well as documenting young Poles who recall the Solidarity movement and what living in Poland is like today.

    World history aside, all these works remind us that we all have a history which influences why we choose to do the things we do.  Joanna’s films are a testimony to how our family background shapes our outlook on the world and in the case of an artist, how this directly influences the type of artwork he or she chooses to create.

    To learn more about Joanna and her works, watch our Featured Artist interview with her or read the accompanying transcript.  And to see her works, visit her website at jraczynska.com.

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