“A disciplined artist is one who, in order to share what he/she values most, takes the risk of being free”

Family House in Biezen Polska 'Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking about yourself less.'

I grew up in a fall of communism in a small village of Biezen near Czestochowa. The complex history of my country has had a huge impact on my family. Like most people, our family had lost nearly everything during the WWII, when both of my grandparents were sent to labour camps in the German part of Silesia. Upon their return our house was occupied by a number of displaced people and it was only thanks to other locals who returned to Biezen my family was able to reclaim the farmland and what was left of it.

The house I grew up in served as quarters for the German and later Russian commanders during the WWII. It has permanent marks with shells and bullets now hidden in the walls. One day in the 90s me, my sister, dad and grandma drove to visit the camp where my nana spent 6 years as a Prisoner of war. It was a huge day for everyone. Despite being quite young, I felt it was quite important and I felt lucky to witness it.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by nature, hard physical labour and rather harsh Polish climate, which I loved and hated at the same time. In our working class neighbourhood, in the communism era prior to 1989, nobody had much money to go out and be entertained. Everybody’s social life happened at a house or while working, or on a street outside your home. I learnt to play a piano accordion and together with my childhood friend Bartek, we entertained anyone who was willing to listen to our tunes, children from the neighbourhood, random passersby, all sitting quietly listening… When my friend turned 18, he died in a car crash with three other people. I remembered that loss for long, for so long in fact that I created an artwork about it 19 years later, it’s called the ‘Balancing Act.

Balancing Act limited edition print Aldona Kmiec red dress pregnant Polish mother Magda Kazmierczak artist
Balancing Act, 2014. Photo: Aldona Kmiec

Life as a child under Communism was unburdened with excess or luxury. I vividly remember queuing for hours outside the grocer’s to buy rationed food. The queues sometimes buzzed with lively conversation, more often with resignation. As a child I made a promise to myself to learn as many languages as I could in order to be able to leave and explore the world. It was an utterly absurd dream to have in such circumstances, we grew up in the world where men played cards, women made food and children listened to war stories veiled in thick cigarettes smoke. I wish I had a camera back then, when, hidden behind the bed, my eyes were wide from fear and excitement of stories being told, stories being relived once again.

Our youth is a remnant of a beautiful place that has slowly been replaced with a digitised version. Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to photography.