Kaja Rata – Kajnikaj
WORDS BY EMMA BOWKETT FROM SPLASH & GRAB 4.
Kaja Rata is a storyteller. She lives in a small town in the Silesian region of southern Poland – once a thriving area for mining. “I live in a place where nothing happens”, she tells me. “While my friends are travelling the world, I have to stay here.” So she makes work that allows her to escape her life, opening a door into a fantastical cosmic universe somewhere between fiction and reality. For Rata the concept of truth in photography is not important.
Before studying photography at the University of Arts in Poznan, Rata studied literature and she draws upon this in her photographic practice. In 2015, while on the Sputnik Mentorship Programme, she was tutored by photographer Adam Panczuk, whose work fascinated her. She started making the project Kajnikaj. “I wanted to do something on the place that I live in, something separate from myself. But that didn’t work. After a while I realised I needed to make something more personal.”
Kajnikaj – which in the local dialect means here and there – was inspired by a story by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz: Cinnamon Shops. In this, he uses a series of exotic mythologies to describe the cloth merchant’s shop where he grew up. Rata, using memory and remembrance, has created her own narratives. “I built my own stories. I wanted to make something sad, because I was sad. But also I wanted to make people smile. Fun, but not naïve.” Living in a town close to collapse, built over a system of underground corridors used for mining, she looked to the skies, and into space. “To go away from here is to go up.”
The pictures she makes are in equal parts playful and poignant, set in a universal space the viewer can connect to. I asked her how she feels now about her home. “When people contact me from overseas, interested in my history, I feel not so invisible”.