Polish Treasures at the Hunterian. Migrations through the lens of art

Online exhibition

1.

The Hunterian and Archives & Special Collections at the University of Glasgow host an impressive and varied selection of objects created by Polish artists throughout the centuries. The exhibition presented here, showcases this hidden treasure and highlights the presence of Polish artists and artworks in Scotland.

Over the last few decades, the UK foreign-born population more than doubled – it went from 3.8 million in 1993 to 9.5 million in 2019.[1]  According to NRS Scotland in 2019 ‘of the 7% of Scotland’s population who were non-British nationals, 237,000 (64%) were EU nationals of which the most common nationality was Polish with 97,000 Polish nationals living in Scotland’.[2]

The picture of Polish migrants, and migrants in general, painted by the populist media is often biased, shallow and stereotypical. I hope that the exhibition would enable the dissemination of a more nuanced image of Polish migrants in Scotland and offer an insight into Polish culture.

By creating the exhibition in an online form I aim to provide a resource for teachers and families interested in teaching and discussing the topic of migration with children, provide tools they could use and inspire them to explore the rich Hunterian collections in search of other items, be it those related to the heritage of children learning in Scottish schools or not, stimulating and satisfying in a non-stereotypical way pupils’ interest in learning about cultures and people unknown to them.

The items in the Hunterian collections created by Polish artists or coming from Poland either migrated to Scotland themselves, being acquired or gifted to the host collection, or were created in Scotland by artists of Polish origin who settled here. Those objects reflect the movement and the settlement of people in Scotland but also the complexity of the process of migration and the arbitrariness of marking people or artworks as Polish, Scottish, British, Russian or Ukrainian.

GLAHA:21177, “Le Comptoir”, Marcoussis, Louis, 1920 – 1920, etching,aquatint and drypoint, print, ink on paper (close-up of the label)

This project builds on Shklovsky’s perception that ‘art is the means to live through the making of a thing’ [3] and that in the process of experiencing an artwork the viewers can gain deeper insights into the experience that led to creating it, and build the connection with ‘the other’. I hope that the exhibition would help in the dissemination of a more nuanced image of a ‘migrant’, the process of migration and inspire new perspectives from which migration could be approached.

Understanding more about migration may not prevent future forced migrations but may allow us to see the other not as a migrant or a refugee but as a person like us that happened to be blown by various political and historical forces from one place to another as many others have been and many, most likely, will be.

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