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?
‘Sculpture for me is the giving of a material gift to the being who makes (her) presence felt in my work.’ Doris Salcedo – Colombian artist Cabbage Patch (2011), 200cm x 200cm; polymorph plastic, spent rifle cartridge cases (brass) Diana Forster has been using art to tell the story of her mother’s forced displacement from Poland… Read More
Train to Siberia (Giclee print, 38cm by 50cm): Diana Forster, 2019. As discussed in ‘Somewhere to Stay’, Anna Sokulska Forster’s childhood changed abruptly when Soviet troops arrived in Eastern Poland in February 1940, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which divided Poland between the two powers. The… Read More
Here you shall live! (Giclee print, 118.9cm x 84.1cm): Diana Forster, 2020. The last major railway station on the freezing journey from Poland was Kotlas in Arkhangelsk (Archangel region). This was not the end of the journey, since Anna’s family travelled on for a few hours to a labour camp (or posiolek) called Kopytovo which… Read More
Gulag tree forest (Giclee print, 38cm by 50cm): Diana Forster, 2019. Camp inmates had to work in the surrounding forests in temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius, cutting down trees, sawing them up and taking them to the river to be transported to wood mills downstream. For this they were paid a pitiful monthly wage, 10… Read More
Uzbekistan (Giclee print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm): Diana Forster, 2021. In 1941, about 18 months after Anna Sokulska Forster’s family was deported from Poland, Hitler reneged on the pact he had made with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. Stalin changed sides, joining the Allies, and was persuaded to release the people he had deported to… Read More
About 18,000 civilians ended up in camps in Africa like the camp at Tengeru where Anna Sokulska Forster and her family were sent. The Red Cross compiled lists of the deportees as they arrived and the print below shows just some of those whose names began with ‘S’ and the camps to which they were… Read More