Today I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavor to trace its imperfections, its perversions.Frantz Fanon
Edyta Majewska’s most recent body of work, Other White, is deeply concerned with the titanic clashing forces between the public and the private realm in face of Brexit. Her approach is a relentlessly poetic, passionate, and continuous recount of how the Brexit campaign has affected prospects of her own life and her family’s life as first-generation immigrants in the UK. Having moved with her daughter Nikoletta to Scotland in 2006, Majewska bears the financial weight of supporting her child as a single mother and as an art practitioner. This unique positioning led Majeska to employment situations within the realm of ‘invisible workers’ – low employment positions usually populated by well-educated foreign workers unable to retain lateral social mobility between their homeland and the UK due to language barriers and at times unjust racial and socio-economical divisions.
While attending the Glasgow School of Art and for two years after graduation, Majewska worked as a cleaner at a local high school in Glasgow for 6 years from 2011 to 2017. During this time, her social positioning and socio-racial background had reduced Majewska’s existence to near invisibility in the eyes of others. More heart-breakingly, the external pressures of negative reception had caused Majewska to internalize a sense of forced invisibility under the derogatory gaze of others.
In 2016, Majewska’s workplace was turned into a polling station for the Brexit Referendum. Having found herself cleaning the floors of the temporary polling station every night leading up to Referendum day, Majewska came to a stark realization of the immensity of meanings in these moments: what she was paid at minimum wage to do and at the price of her own deterioriting pride and racial dignity was also paving the way for a decision to be made that could shatter the already limited prospects of her and her daughter’s future in the UK that they both so depended on, all the while having not the slightest power to alter it in anyway. On the day before the referendum, Majewska filmed herself sweeping up around the polling booths and later coupled this footage with Nigel Farage’s speech on the Brexiteers’ “historic victory” to make the short but powerful work, 22/06/2016 (2016). The 2 minutes 19 seconds long film marks the beginning of a two-year long project that Majewska has taken underway.
During the next two-year period, Majewska created multi-layered photographic images that disjointedly document significant moments in her personal life. Her diptych G13 3EN and G1 1US (2017) are contestations of the irreducible distance between small gratifications in reality and an idealistic hope for the future. The Wallpaper series (2018) have the mesmeric formal quality of Persian rugs but on close looking they reveal details of repeated figurative patterns: Majewska’s daughter on her first day at a Scottish high school; An ex-english teacher from Lithuania (who now works as a cleaner) gives language lessons to another fellow immigrant worker; Family members brave the cold sea waters on their first visit to Scotland; The first council flat offered to the Majewskas in Glasgow.
If you do not look closely you will not see those personal stories that make up the very tissues of an often overlooked private sphere. Majewska’s installation serves as an allegory of the twinkling hope and love that fuel the spirits of many despite their bleak prospects of an uncertain future. Digital photographs and polaroids hung on top of the collaged wallpapers reveal futher disjointed personal histories, reminiscent of an incomplete memorandum from which significant entries were omitted or stolen. There are pictures of Polish veterans of World War II attending Remembrance Day in George’s Square – men who fought with the British against the Nazis but who could not return home afterwards for fear of Stalinist repression. There are photographs of birthdays and other parties, of neighbours and of friends. These are the people whose visibility have faded in the history of British society and whose fate, by consequence of Brexit, are about to be repeated again by the younger generation in a more volatile way.
Other White highlights the growing xenophobia surrouding policies of immigration in the UK and contradictory neo-liberal rhetorics that do no more than ascentuate the deep class division and racial inequality that prevail British society today. Majewska’s fearlessly recount of stories of the Other, through her own direct experience as a working-class single mother and an immigrant in Scotland, is acutely responsive and poignantly told at a time of extreme political crisis. Other White is a body of work that gives back the voices of those who are subject to a both politically silenced and socially silencing realm of secondary existence. It is an empowering cut-throat call to fight back when politicians turn a blind eye, and basic human dignities and hopes for a better future are put on the line under the pretence of salvaging an inevitable economic regression.
* In October 2018, after a long and very expensive process, Edyta Majewska finally swore her oath and received her certificate as she posed beneath a picture of the Queen in Glasgow City Chambers. The whole process of becoming a British citizen cost in the region of two thousand pounds, but with it came a relative sense of security. Unless the current rules change, Majewska’s daughter 24-year-old Nikoletta will need to work and pay taxes for another four years before she too has the opportunity to go through the same process.