The idea of the Symbiosis Project was born in 2012, when travelling with my backpack around Europe, I realized how important the tale is. However, it wasn’t about my story to tell as another, white privileged traveler describing her experiences in other countries, but about those stories that were shared with me. I was very moved by the richness of knowledge that lived in the people I met, and this in turn made me think more and more about the place of the story in mainstream culture; about who tells the stories we hear every day, what they say, how the narrative is built. Stories that are imposed on us ‘from above’, that have a permanent place in popular culture, in the entertainment industry, histories by the big H, shape our image of the world, set norms, while supporting a system of hierarchy and exploitation. On the other hand, there are stories that are shaped from the bottom up, that arise from experience, from everyday life, from people of all ages, cultures and contexts. I decided to illustrate the stories that were entrusted to me and to show them at exhibitions with pictures of the people who told them. In this form they travel with me around the world.
For the last five years I have lived in Central Australia, in the world of Aboriginal communities. There, through my work in the Aboriginal Art Centers, I have learned and familiarized myself with the role of the story in this culture, where each person is connected to others like in a one big family. Within this family, in turn, there are links to the world of plants and animals through totems passed on by ancestors, all of which are inextricably linked to the earth and grow out of it. Each and everyone at the moment of birth receives a tribal name (skin name), which defines his or her relationship with the members of the community. Who the parents are, determines the totems together with the stories inscribe in them, and the places from which they grow up. This creates a system in which everyone holds a different part of the story, which are connected to each other and form a whole (-song lines-). The Symbiosis Project is not a reflection of the Aboriginal way of shaping stories, but it is inspired by similar basic assumptions. It assumes the existence of a network of connections between living beings, including people, and the land from which they grow up, and it is accompanied by the conviction that everyone brings their part to the whole. All this is not hierarchical, but happens organically, from the bottom up, creating a system of connections.
The material aspect of the Symbiosis Project is what I can share with others, although for me its value lies in the process. The most important thing about the Symbiosis Project is the openness to others, curiosity, readiness to listen and create something together. And this is what I try to show and promote through what I do. I can see the diversity that surrounds us, and I feel that when we open up to it, deepen our knowledge about it, it will help us to create new qualities and relationships that make a multidimensional symbiotic system involving human and non-human beings on our planet possible.
Project Symbiosis is a never-ending story. To this day I managed to co-create about 40 illustrated stories. I include some of them:
1. The invitation to the exhibition “Homelands – Houses”, through which I dealt with questions about what “home” is.
2. The poster co-created with the Wild Carpathian Initiative, which tells about the need not only to protect natural forests, but also to fundamentally change our approach to nature.
3. The story of Dianne Stokes – aboriginal woman from Waramungu country, who talks about the riches of her land and the impact of fracking on these regions.
4. 2. The story of my another aboriginal friend from the Northern Territory, who explains what makes up an Aboriginal identity.
5. The story written by Michał Augustyn presenting the rituals of a future post-industrial community that has returned to a close relationship with the land.
More about the project:
Joanna aka Yoana / Project Symbiosis
Joanna Gwarek aka Yoana was born in Warsaw. She studied Cultural Studies, in 2011 she hit the road with her backpack, first travelling around Europe and then Australia and Asia. From 2015 to 2019 she lived in Central Australia, where she studied local flora and worked with Aboriginal communities. From 2016 to 2019 she worked for the Barkly Regional Arts organization in Tennant Creek, Warumung. She was the coordinator of Aboriginal Art Centers, working closely with communities in Tennant Creek, Mungkarta, Epenarra, Canteen Creek. Since 2012 she has been developing the Symbiosis Project.