London/Luton based Lebek will investigate themes of migration, displacement and assimilation informed by experiences of the Lemko community - an ethnic minority forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland in the Carpathian Mountains in a series of violent deportations, culminating in Operation Vistula in 1947.
Throughout the tragic history of the banished Lemkos, worship and singing have remained crucial and unifying factors in recognising and maintaining a shared sense of cultural identity, revealing unique mythologies, forgotten rituals and rites of passage. Lebek will draw on the cultural, spiritual and personal accounts of violence, trauma and shame manifested through generations to create a musical, performative and visual experience in which the wounded voices of the past mould into a song in the present, striving for recognition and reparation.
This new work takes inspiration from the ‘watra’ - a large bonfire, built to evoke memories of things past, or to revive a sense of community. The name also belongs to the biggest Lemko festival in the world, held in the Carpathian Mountains. This annual event is a blend of old traditions and modern forms of recreation, where the stage is a meeting place and music the foundation.
Merging sound, video, photography and sculpture, Karolina’s work “exists as a record of getting inside of a scar, reaching towards the most vulnerable source that yet radiates strength.”
Karolina Lebek has lived and worked in Luton for many years and graduated from the University of Bedfordshire before studying at the Royal College of Art. The issues of migration and assimilation explored with this exhibition are particularly pertinent in Luton which is one of three “plural” towns and cities outside London (Luton, Leicester, Slough) where no single ethnic group makes up more than half the population.
Watra is organised by Departure Lounge in collaboration with Luton Culture and is part of As You Change, So Do I (https://asyouchange.co.uk/) a three-year programme of public art events funded by Arts Council England’s Luton Investment Programme.
As You Change, So Do I produces up to nine projects each year in which artists are given a platform to make new public works in response to Luton’s unique industrial and cultural history. The programme has been curated by Mark Titchner, Matthew Shaul and Andrew Hunt.