Revisiting different historical references through found Images and how presenting these fragmented narratives changes over the filter of time.
Caroline Streatfield. 2018
‘If you leave a note book and don’t return to it for a long time and don’t go back and look at those pages even preferably a few years later when you have to struggle to remember what it was about , I think that process of coming back to things you wrote or did or thought in a few years' time is tremendously productive, it allows you to see a part of your own subconscious that you won’t see in the moment but will make sense in a few years’ time.’
Through revisiting found family photographs, a found holiday sketchbook and my Father’s rediscovered paintings pre 1991, I’m intending to present different voices to communicate fragmented narratives of a time forgotten. I’m using the term ‘found ‘as used by Iwona Blazwick (Blazwick I,2011.p5) as it ‘implies the discovery of something lost.’
1991 was the year that I visited my Mother’s family for the first time since my Mother came to London from Czechoslovakia early in 1968. Russia then invaded Prague (Aug 20th, 1968) to end what became known as Prague Spring; she didn’t know what to do so she stayed and was granted indefinite leave to remain.
I thought 1991 would be a good time to finish the research since that was when I visited Slovakia and the country became ‘real’ to me.
When I did visit Slovakia in 1991, I also developed a sketchbook and reading over it now 27 years later it seems more symbolic and encapsulates the sense of wonder (for me) of a land moving from the ‘imagined’ into the ‘real’.
Around the 1970s and the early 80s my British Father was painting and mixed up with my memories of this time are the visual recollections of his paintings that hung on our walls at home (figs 1 and 2 below). He drew on photographs in his paintings and included many references to Eastern European and world history in his work. I’m trying to put something of the feel of these paintings into my work to inform a diaspora of growing up in a household as a second generation immigrant.
(Fig.1 ( Fig. 2:Streatfield D,The death of Trotsky 1977)
The work that I’m presenting depicts the sense of that era but through the lens of the current time we live in. The feeling of a past told through my art practice intertwined with Eastern European narratives crossed over into the west.
I thought it would be useful to get in contact with the artist Naeem Mohaiemen and he agreed to meet me at the Tate Britain café on the 3rdDecember 2018. He said
‘The way you talk about the work is the most fascinating part ……………….and how spontaneous you are …………it's all quite fluid and it’s kind of the way we live……. I like the way you told it which kind is of disorganized………………. the way you went through the material right now is probably representative of the divided heritage you have.’
With the embodied act of painting, I am bringing my interpretation of the source material into the present moment and adding weight to it through my filter of historical knowledge.
I am excavating stories and, as Naeem Mohaiemen puts it, 'bringing ‘them into dialogue (at least in my own mind, perhaps not in theirs) with a time that moves forwards in unsteady motion'.
(Mohaiemen N, 2016, p 55)
My practice puts me in touch with the past through the act of being the invisible viewer in the found photos. I’m interested in the rediscovery of memories and giving them a presence.
When I’m looking through the photographs, I am looking for, as Roland Barthes noted, ‘something more like an internal agitation, an excitement, a certain labour too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken’ (Barthes.1980,p19)
I’m interested in the black and white photo and how it only shows part of the narrative which opens it to interpretation from the current times we are living in, an example where the black And White image has been doctored is the film ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’by Peter Jackson (2018)
Fig.3 shows a photograph of my Mother and her brother in 1963 when she was 15 and he was 18. Whilst painting, I could not help remembering my Mother had told me that in five years' time from when this photograph was taken, they would be separated and would not meet or have any contact again for another 21 years.
(Fig.3, Unknown, Svidran G and Svabek P,1963 ) (Fig.4, Streatfield C, Acrylic on canvas,2018)
Discovering this history added (in my mind) weight to the image.
By the method of physically painting from, the photograph I became emotionally connected to the narrative behind it. Through the act of painting I’m giving something of myself to a new representation of the image and investing time to remember.
Willheim Sasnal talks of how ‘painters get into a person to show their inner condition while painting them and that’s what he’s looking for when he paints. But it’s not knowledge that can be expressed in words.’(EichlerD, Przywara A,Heiser J ,2011, p9)
(Fig. 5):Sasnal,Portrait of Rodchenko Lady,2002.
My research has not been linear, because I have discovered the narratives through broken conversation over the years, not in year order.
Since I do not speak Slovak, I feel a disconnection, and as it is a minority language this is an attempt to understand and record my heritage that could be lost to me. Susan Hillier in ‘The Last Silent Movie ‘ touches upon this with a document of dead and dying languages. Language is a powerful marker of identity and as artist Maria Kapajeva asked in her Perspectives talk at Wimbledon College on the 16thOct ,2018 ’ Who will keep the language alive if they weren’t born there?’
This research is an attempt to communicate the visual language of a heritage that I cannot tell through the native language.
(Fig 6) Kapajeva , You can call him another man.(2018)
Barthes R, Camera Lucida.1980: Vintage Publishing.
Blazwick I, Enwezor O (2011) Willhelm Sasnal. Whitechapel Gallery
Mohaiemen N, What we mean when we ask permission, What Now? The Politics of Listening, Barlow A , Editor (2016) Black Dog Publishing.
Eichler D, Przywara A, Heiser J,(2011) Wilhelm Sasnal. London.Phaidon Press.
(Accessed on 1.12.18)
Mohaiemen N. (2018) Turner Prize nominee. Available at:
( Accessed 28.11.18)
Streatfield C.(2018) Conversation with Naeem Mohaiemen 3rdDecember.
Kapajeva M, ( 2018) Perspectives talk.University of the Arts, London Wimbledon College of arts. 16thOct.
They shall not grow old. Jackson P.Original black and white film © IW:;Wingnut films
( Accessed 03.12.18)
Fig 1.David Streatfield,Nadezhda Krupskaya:Where are you? ( 1977)
Fig 2. David Streatfield, The death of Trotsky (c.1977)
Fig 3.Unknown, B & W photograph, 5 cm x 4 cm Gabriela Svidran and Palo Svabekova
Fig 4. Caroline Streatfield,2018 ,Acrylic on canvas board. 27 cm x 27 cm,
Fig 5. Wilhelm Sasnal. Portrait of Rodchenko Lady, 2002. Oil on canvas. 30 x 30 cm
Fig 6 Kapajeva, you Can Call Him another Man.