Storefront transforms a previously empty commercial space in Bute Street into an environment where artists can experiment, engage new audiences, share work-in-progress and test ideas.

Karolina Lebek: Watra

Polish artist Karolina Lebek explores her Lemko heritage through the medium of traditional song and singing as one of the factors that continue to unite this now dispersed community.

Lebek will investigate themes of migration, displacement and assimilation informed by experiences of the Lemko community. The Lemko community is 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.

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.

Bonfire on a field
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.”

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. For the Lemko people, worship and singing, reveal unique mythologies, forgotten rituals and rites of passage. In this exhibition, 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.

Patterned detail of wall fresco in Poland
Video Still Karolina Lebek

Opening Reception

Wednesday 21 February 2018, 6-8.30pm The Storefront, 64 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY Karolina Lebek will be in conversation with curator Matthew Shaul, 7 – 7.30pm.

Closing Event

As part of their ongoing collaborative practice Karolina Lebek and Glasgow-based Scottish artist Susannah Stark will perform a live audio-visual set expanding on the themes of the exhibition on Saturday 24 March at 7pm.

#AsYouChange #loungeluton #watra


Opening Hours

Thursday – Saturday 1pm– 6pm


64 Bute Street,
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