The repression of memory as a result of trauma from war and social divisions is often an experience that obscures or intensifies personal histories. This is especially true between generations. The Memory Zero project is an attempt to bridge this gap through drawn impressions from intergenerational family stories collaged with image and text searches to locate their approximate times and places. Together this creates, hopefully, a fuller historical and affective context. For this, I drew from family stories and histories in England and Poland before and after World War l. In this way the personal and historical approximations merge into their own continuum, greater than their parts.

Memory zero is a project about immigrant family histories and how they relate to processes of occlusion and repression. Focusing on my own family of immigrants, I investigate these histories in a series of collaged drawings, backed up by research into remote times and places. The project is a way of interpolating incomplete and partially or fully obscured narratives that oscillate between a sense of historical belonging and stepping outside of its boundaries. The work starts with the drawn impression of a story whose elements are then collaged to make palpable the difference between these positions vis-à-vis history.

—Sean Smuda

  1. Sandomierz is home to the infamous blood libel paintings (ca. 1750) by Karol [Charles] de Prevot called Mord Rytualny (Ritual Murder). The paintings famously depict fictitious murders committed by Jews on Christian children. Such stories were used as pretexts to seize Jewish property throughout Europe, often accompanied by torture and execution. The controversy surrounding these paintings today is that, after having been covered for eight years, since 2015, they are once again being shown in Sandomierz's St. Paul's Church.

  2. Like many other refugees, my grandmother fled from Galicia and ended up in Serbia during World War I. For the locals, potato cellars like this one near the Polish/Serbian border (in 1918) were typical hiding places from Russian troops. Flour was hidden in a tree, then discovered.

  3. In 1894 England, Irish immigrants, as well as the entire English lower class, did not have great social mobility. Although labor unions had started to form, the constitutional monarchy still dominated politics. Queen Victoria made a series of visits to the industrial North to bolster the crown. After she noticed my Irish great-grandfather calming a horse, he was promptly promoted to the rank of a detective.

  4. Colonialism, among other things, led to the import of exotic animals into the United Kingdom and to the creation of many pubs featuring monkeys in these pubs’ names and logos, as well as in live entertainment. Humorously or not, the pub signs embraced Darwin's theory of evolution by offering a human glimpse at our simian ancestors. In this collage, that very glimpse, as it were, fasts forward.

  5. Used to traveling by any means, immigrant descendants hitchhiked during the years of the American Dust Bowl and after, despite all the dangers and the fact that it was outlawed in some states. Indeed, hitchhiking became a defining sign of freedom and opportunity during the 1950s. My father hitchhiked to commute to college across the country. Hitchhiking still persists today, and US law simply states that “it is illegal to walk or stand on the roadway but it is not illegal to stand or walk on the sidewalk, shoulder, or at ramp entrances of the roadway.”1