Notes from the curators

Poles, Jews and Our Interrelated Cultural Heritage

Leicester is often seen as a super diverse city, well known for its multi-faith population, where different cultures and religions live side-by-side harmoniously. Inter-cultural dialogue plays an important role in the lives of city residents, involving a broad spectrum of activities from formal visits to worship places to informal connections between distinct groups and individuals of different backgrounds.

Recovering Connections: Poles, Jews and Our Interrelated Cultural Heritage is the result of a local inter-cultural endeavor to bring together the Leicester-based Polish and Jewish communities, with the intention of empowering them to recover their long-standing shared cultural and historical connections. The culmination of a number of community engagement workshops that took place in Leicester in November and December 2019, the digital exhibition constitutes a record of one Polish-Jewish dialogue, carried out through and with the assistance of the medium of photography. This dialogue between the two communities revolves around their shared life experiences in Leicester in the present day, while tapping into questions about their related heritage, uneasy collective memories of one another, and the implications of their different religious beliefs in the context of the past and the present alike.

Although this dialogue subsequently touches upon issues of sensitive nature for both communities, the photographs in the exhibition, coupled with their accompanying reflective texts, aspire to assist in increasing mutual understanding between Poles and Jews in Leicestershire, as well as their familiarity with one another – as communities, but also as individuals. Photography is used here to enable community members of both groups to provide a level of access to their otherwise relatively separate personal, social, and cultural environments and lived experiences. Presenting the results of their endeavor side-by-side, the exhibition reveals their individual experiences, hopes, and uncertainties at the very same time as it highlights their similarities, empathy, and feeling of togetherness, despite their undeniable difference.

The photographs included in the digital exhibition were made and selected by over 15 individuals from the two communities, showcasing the richness and diversity of their cultures and everyday life. While those individuals represent a diverse range of social backgrounds and age groups, it is significant to explain that, initially, a larger number of members from each community were keen to enter into this inter-cultural dialogue. Some of them decided to withdraw due to  emotional distress,  as almost unavoidably their engagement with the subject in question triggered difficult memories and feelings related to the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the experiences that followed these dark chapters in the history of both Poles and Jews. Others made their mind to leave the conversation and keep their photographs to themselves as they lacked conviction about the reasons behind their peers’ participation in the initiative, suspecting that not everyone was equally interested in allowing reciprocal understanding between Jews and Poles to prevail. Nevertheless, while boiling down the interaction between the two communities to just a few words is not an easy task, other participants were led to undertake deeper and culturally diverse research into the history of Polish-Jewish relations, as well as into their own family history. Due to these tensions and complexities, the curators, together with the participating community members, have unanimously agreed that names of contributors to the exhibition would be omitted, not least as blurring the boundaries between Jews and Poles in this way makes it easier to understand how similar they actually are despite their undeniable simultaneous difference.

Recovering Connections: Poles, Jews and Our Interrelated Cultural Heritage includes some brief curatorial introductions that intend to give a voice to representatives of each community, express their unique perspectives, as well as provide further details about the production process of the photographs and text included in the exhibition pages. The curators and contributors to the digital exhibition hope it can trigger further innovative opportunities for mutual reflections and dialogues between Poles and Jews to emerge, in Leicestershire and beyond.

The exhibition curators

Barbara Czyznikowska, Miriam Levene and Gil Pasternak

Leicester 2020