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Depicting Displacement

    In 1940, when she was 16 years old, artist Diana Forster’s mother – Anna Sokulska Forster – was deported from her family home in eastern Poland (now Ukraine) and transported to a Soviet labour camp in Arkhangelsk. So began a long journey of survival and ongoing displacement that would see her travel thousands of miles, from country to country, in search of shelter and a new place to call home.

    While Anna did not talk much about her experiences to her children, she shared enough to make her daughter Diana curious to find out more. And the few stories that she did share stayed with Diana, eventually inspiring her to create some artwork that would visualise this forced migration for others. As Diana explains in this podcast, the deportation of Polish people to Soviet Russia in the early 1940s is not a well-known episode of Second World War history; so one of her aims with her art has been to raise awareness of this mass displacement. In the process, she has become interested in war art itself, preferring beautiful aesthetics over a shock-and-horror approach. Drawing viewers in with delicate shapes and charming colours, she focuses on the everyday experiences of ordinary people impacted by conflict, allowing their stories to unfold gradually in a way that intrigues but does not repel the viewer.

    As you will see if you browse some of her artwork below, Diana has spent the last few years experimenting with the ways in which different visual media can communicate the unimaginably shocking rupture of forced migration. Through woodcuts, sculpture, line drawings and ironic posters, she has captured many different aspects of displacement – from imprisonment, hard labour and hunger to self-care and other sources of support. We encourage you to compare her techniques in these different formats with her new art installation, ‘Somewhere to Stay‘. How does the imagery in her different pieces compare with your habits of visualising forced migration? What colours, settings and aesthetics do you associate with refugee experiences? What place does humour or irony have in visualising forced migration? And what kind of art might you create yourself, if you were narrating a refugee story like Anna Sokulska Forster’s?