LAZNIA 2 Anna Witkowska – We Have One Heart
Exhibition: 16th March–29th April 2018
Opening: 16th March 2018, 6 pm

Curator: Jolanta Woszczenko
Assistant of curator: Emilia Golnik

LAZNIA 2 Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdansk Nowy Port
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The starting point of the exhibition are letters written by Farouk, the father of Witkowska’s husband Adam, to Adam’s mother Halina, which were only found after the latter’s death. This correspondence enabled Adam and Anna to discover the love story between Adam’s parents and the reasons behind their break up. The very title of the exhibition was borrowed from one of Farouk’s letters. Adam’s parents used basic English, so their writing is full of funny mistakes and twisted phrases, yet what shines through are the tenderness, care and love they had for each other. In the letters, Halina is referred to as “My Lody,” while Farouk signs his name as “Faroukovsky” in an attempt at approaching Polish spelling. Also meaningful is the rose-printed letter paper he used – a rose is an important symbol in Eastern culture.


Adam’s parents met during a student trip to Budapest in 1976. At the time Halina studied at the Faculty of Graphic Arts of the State Art University. Farouk, an Iraqi Kurd, was older than her and studied History at the University of Baghdad. It was his first trip to Europe. For several months the pair lived in Poland and sought permission for a civil marriage. During that time, Farouk often travelled to Iraq. When he was away, they exchanged letters. In 1977 Halina became pregnant. Two months before she gave birth, in February 1978, Farouk had to fly to Baghdad again. Only this time he did not return. He was denied another visa to Europe and could not be there for the birth of his first son.


Farouk was conscripted and, as an inhabitant of Baghdad and citizen of Iraq, he took part in the first Iran–Iraq War and subsequent offensives led by Saddam Hussein. Towards the end of the war, Saddam decided to clamp down on Kurds – the nation of eternal guerrillas and rebels. Farouk again witnessed unimaginable violence, referred to by some as the Kurdish Holocaust. During ceasefires he made spontaneous drawings, some of which have survived and, transformed by Anna Witkowska, will be shown at the exhibition.

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The drawings were subjected to psychological analysis by Dr. Hab. Przemysław Piotrowski, head of the Forensic Psychology and Criminology Unit at the Institute of Applied Psychology of the Jagiellonian University. His expert opinion is ruthlessly clear: “In traumatic situations, when one experiences things that previously seemed unimaginable, words fail. The multitude of dramatic events that cannot be compared to anything else makes it very difficult to verbalise one’s observations, feelings and thoughts. This difficulty involves more than just the concentration of intense emotions: people who experience events such as natural disasters, brutal crimes or wartime activities find that trying to describe it in words, especially to people who never found themselves in similar situations, is futile in terms of communication, as it fails to convey the dramatic nature of events and what they had to endure. Some sensitive individuals attempt other means of expression, such as music, writing or drawing.”

Drawing is a means of projection; in other words, according to psychodynamic psychologists and psychiatrists, it is an unconscious manifestation of our traits. Farouk began to draw in a critical, extreme moment, to protect his sense of self. The story of Farouk and his Polish-Iraqi family will serve as a pretext for deliberations on the geopolitical and economic mechanisms that influence human fate and their effect on further generations. Farouk appears as an everyman whose story resonates with the combined experience of Kurds and Arabs who visited Poland in the 1970s. It is worth noting that Poland cultivated close ties with the Middle East up until the 1990s: many Poles left for Iraq and found employment in the construction of roads, bridges, power stations, residential and administrative buildings.

These good relations were interrupted by wars. The experience of long-standing armed conflict, permanent danger, no prospects for a change of fate and harassment on the basis of nationality places Farouk among other victims of wartime oppression. It is interesting to see how he tries to transform war trauma through drawings and poetry, which show clear references to ancient Persian, Kurdish and Arabic culture.

At the exhibition Anna Witkowska modifies original drawings, poems and letters of her father-in-law, adding the perspective of European culture and our way of thinking about the Middle East. Using objects, video, large-format prints, a black-and-white carpet and a wall painting titled All of Farouk’s Wars she brings us closer to Farouk the everyman: a war survivor who has loved and who wants to love again, reminding us that “We have one heart”. Consequently, the exhibition will attempt to face the experience of nomadism, of forming relationships between people of different nationalities as well as the consequences of war and its impact on the human mind, also in the philosophical dimension.

Anna Witkowska is a visual artist, graphic designer and occasionally a curator. She has been associated with Gdańsk ever since her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts. Anna and Adam Witkowski form a husband-and-wife art duo. Anna’s individual projects often have a synthetic, graphic character, with text playing a vital role. Witkowska explores the poetics of advertising with an existential dimension (pictograms, murals, lightboxes, video). She employs video, photography, installation and objects.

She is the holder of two scholarships awarded by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. In 2011, together with Adam Witkowski, she was nominated for the prestigious Deutsche Bank “Views” award for Young Artists at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. In 2013 and 2017 she won the scholarship of the Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. In 2014, together with Adam Witkowski, she curated the Narrations Festival The Sage and the Ghost, for which she won the Splendor Gedanensis award. Recent years saw her revive a former student collective Friends from the Seaside, to which she invited further Friends. Witkowska also co-authored Friends from the Seaside, an extensive account of the cooperation between Tricity artists in 2002–16, which was published in 2017.

The exhibition We Have One Heart is associated with the artist’s doctoral degree.
Municipal Institution of Culture