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Hamtramck art exhibit gives voice to children caught in wars past and present

The Wall Speaks / Wojtek Sawa


“If we can feel sad for what happened to children in Poland, we can equally feel sad about what is happening to children in the Middle East.”

That’s the message that artist Wojtek Sawa and community space owner Alissa Shelton want to bring to the people of Hamtramck.



Sawa’s exhibition “The Wall Speaks - Voices of the Unheard” is open at BankSuey, Shelton’s community space in Hamtramck. The exhibit allows visitors to connect with both the experiences of Polish children traumatized by World War II and with their contemporary counterparts in today’s wars.

When the Germans and then the Soviets invaded the country, Polish youth were dispersed all over the world, sometimes forced into “Germanification” programs or even into work camps in Siberia.

“That story was misrepresented and could not be told as it was,” Sawa said, because of the political alliances during World War II.


Sawa’s work aims to tear down the walls of silence around the Polish children’s suffering. Bank Suey houses photography, video, and personal artifacts that help represent the lives of those children.


Still, Sawa’s exhibition explicitly asks visitors to bear witness, not only to the Polish stories, but also to those of all children trapped by war.


“The children who are most suffering in the world right now as a result of war are the children in the Middle East,” Sawa said.

"If we are bridging Polish past and Muslim present, that is Hamtramck."

“What I’m trying to do is build a bridge, build a connection,” between the two cultures and the two time periods, he said. Therefore, while images of Polish camp survivors appear inside Bank Suey, the windows are lined with tarp that mimics the tents of modern refugee camps.

Shelton and Sawa agree that Bank Suey in Hamtramck is a perfect host for this internationally-touring exhibition.


“Hamtramck actually mirrors the situation we’re speaking of,” Sawa said. “If we’re bridging Polish past and Muslim present, that is Hamtramck.”


“The Wall Speaks - Voices of the Unheard” will be open until May 29th.


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