Unmarked Lives: genealogical research inspires artworks

Edinburgh-based textile artist Joanne Soroka has a long-standing fascination with tracing her family roots. Born in Montreal, her ancestors were Scottish and Japanese as well as Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jewish. A family reunion held in 1994 to mark the centenary of her great-grandparents' arrival in Canada from Lithuania first sparked her curiosity about them.  Two years later, following some initial research which led to her discovering that her great-grandparents had lived on a farm in Seda in the north-west of the country, she had the opportunity to visit Lithuania.   

Joanne Soroka, Scratching the Surface, 2013

Joanne Soroka, Scratching the Surface, 2013

On a Baltic beach near Seda, she photographed the hull of a wooden boat whose hull was over-painted, scraped, and worn. For her, the image became the symbol of her great-grandparents’ flight from Lithuania by boat to Canada, with its promise of a better life. Entitled Scratching the Surface, it also referred to her attempts to understand them and the place and way of life they left behind.

Joanne Soroka, Chaya's Dream (Nightmare), 2013

Joanne Soroka, Chaya's Dream (Nightmare), 2013

This was the beginning of a large project, UNMARKED LIVES, which was eventually to consist of around fifty works of art in tapestry, textiles, and paper. Joanne made further visits to Lithuania, producing more abstract pieces that spoke of her family's history and heritage. Among them was Chaya’s Dream (Nightmare)a more hopeful work in which she imagines her great-grandmother looking up to the shingled roof of her little house and dreaming of a new life. The tapestry is in the form of shingles, with their colour interspersed with those of the boat which would take them to Canada. 

If you'd like to see more examples of Joanne Soroka's work, why not visit her website?