My name is Olga Żmijewska. I am a woman from the Masurian village of Idzbark, a PhD student in cultural studies, the founder and president of the Art of Freedom Foundation, the author of the Zdrowy Wieśniak blog, and an artist expressing herself mainly (but not exclusively) through artistic photography of the cultural landscapes of the Warmia and Masuria region. I run Crystal Palace Productions – an online art gallery showing my works using different technologies (photographic paper, Alu-Dibond, and acrylic glass) and various formats, always in limited editions.
At this point, I would like to share about the nature of my artistic output, which focuses largely on the landscapes of Warmia and Masuria.
Nature exists regardless of which country it is formally located. Nationalism, as a concept, is a very young phenomenon in the history of humankind. It emerged during the process of industrialisation and was driven by the resulting greater mobility of people.
Today, however, the policy and concept of the European Union allows a person to identify with a region that goes beyond the divides into state borders which, in a certain sense, take us back to the past—to the times before the emergence of the concept of a nation and its allocation to a specific country. Today, the Heimat can, once again, become the sanctuary of a sense of identity in terms of belongingness.
Through my Masurian landscape photography I want to bring everything that lies beneath the first cognitive surface to the viewer’s attention. I am also reaching back to the past, revealing the regions where my family came from, only seemingly remaining outside the human context as the photographs do not depict people but landscapes and architectural motives. Leaving the human aspect out is, however, misleading because both architecture and the topography of the landscapes are works of art and, as such, have been formed by a human person. The rural areas of Warmia and Masuria largely refer to their Prussian past.
This approach to photographing Masuria allows me to emphasise a timeless aspect of the region. It is as though the motives on the photographs have been taken out of their geopolitical context and are difficult to attribute to a specific period in history because the pastures, forests, lakes, and even buildings presented by me could have also existed in the same shape and form a century ago.
Wandering around with a camera and exploring the lakes and forests of Warmia and Masuria one cannot but allow the mind to be imbued with the cultural influences of the earlier inhabitants of the region. Oblivious of this, those who were brought up in the area after the War concurrently absorb the culture of their families as well as of the people who established these towns, villages, and settlements hundreds of years ago, yet formally represent a different culture. These influences constantly intertwine and permeate each other, creating a new quality that is closely linked to the region but not to nationality or nationhood.
Masuria beckons you to come and embark on a trip that will take you beyond the linearity of time!
Photos by Maciej Maziuk