PolArt Sydney 2022 presents Alex Cyreszko’s “Polak Diaspora Series” – a solo photographic exhibition at Cooee Art Gallery, Redfern. The body of work looks to identify and reveal the different generations of immigrants from Poland in Australia, and looks to investigate stereotypes and clichés, the triumphs and trauma of what it means to live in Polonia.
Q&A WITH ALEX CYRESZKO
What prompted the series “Polak Diaspora”?
The series started in 2019. I have had the idea for a while. I started with my own family and their story of arriving in Australia, which goes back to World War II. How that single event sent members of my family to the corners of the world and were part of the larger Polish diaspora that has been in effect for centuries. It was really a question of identity, growing up with a non-Anglo-Saxon surname, eating different food and speaking in another language at home. Seeing how this has evolved over my lifetime in Australia and in the Polish community. I wanted to connect with the community, learn their stories and see what it means to be Polish in Polonia. That part is very important, how people identify with or not with that identity.
How did the works of writer Czesław Miłosz and poet Peter Skrzynecki influence your photographic practice?
Literature has always been a big influence on my work. I read a book called Landscape & Memory by Simon Sharma, an English academic, with a Lithuanian background. His book laid the seed. It covered those areas on the borders that both sides of my family originate from. Borders that were changed and families and peoples’ lives destroyed and displaced. He went through a millennia of history in that landscape. He made a great connection to that landscape and its people using text from Mickiewicz and Miłosz. Peter Skrzynecki’s poem – ‘The Polish Immigrant’ just resonated with me. Everything about it. Like Shakespeare’s line ‘What’s in a name?’ Everything. Peter Skrzynecki also grew up in the Bankstown area where I did, his father worked in the Water Board (Sydney Water) like my father, there was a connection with what he was saying.
Is there a particular sitter’s story (from the Polak Diaspora Series) that has resonated with you?
The portrait of my mother or father – these stories are the origins of my initial quest. What happened to them; where they came from; and the effects of World War II; and why we are here in Polonia, Australia?
Is this a series you are looking to continue through the festival?
Yes, I would like to create more portraits in black and white and or colour. Some in the documentary style and some in a more formal studio setup. People from the audience, people from the dance groups. I’m looking forward to making new connections and sharing the many stories of the local community. In the end I would like to exhibit the work and publish a book based on the work.