Essay Prize

Communication Design School of Design

Laura Balcerek (she/her)

I am a Polish illustrator and visual artist. My artistic practice revolves around themes of identity, memory, politics, human rights, and neurodivergence.

My degree project: “I Feel like I am from Nowhere,” questions the significance of a connection to a place, culture, and heritage as it relates to one’s identity. My family’s nomadic lifestyle has left me with a blurred sense of identity and post-memory defined by gaps and blank spaces, which inspired me to explore my roots through conversations with my mother in an attempt to fill the blank spaces with a repository of second-hand memories.

In my dissertation, I aimed to explore blanc spaces of a different kind, to which my personal experiences of cultural invisibility inspired me. Through analysis of past and present discourses on Eastern Europe, I find that its construct, as seen by Western Europe, resembles Orientalist patterns and is built on a hierarchical slope between civilisation and barbarism, as Eastern Europe is built in opposition to Western Europe, as its alter ego, against which Western Europe could define itself. I find this topic especially important amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a significant part of political discourse is still built upon those thinking patterns.

my website
I feel like I am from nowhere
“The whole time?!” – graphic novel
various collages

I feel like I am from nowhere

My project is a record of conversations I have had with my mom about our family history. The idea came from a sense of rootlessness and blurred identity and is an attempt at filling in memory gaps through a repository of second-hand memories.

Most of my family on my mom’s side (which is the side I feel close to) died when I was young or before I was born. The lack of cross-generational relationships in my childhood has caused me to feel disconnected and ungrounded in my identity. Most of what I know about my family comes from stories I was told of them and not from my own memory. My family has moved across Poland many times. Every generation of my family that I would know of was raised in a different place, hence we don’t have a specific local heritage or identity to connect to.

When asked where in Poland am I from I find myself hesitant to name the city I was born and raised in. After all, my family is not from there. I did not hear local dialect at home, and when I was taught about local history and folk culture and traditional clothes at school I did not feel like I have a real link or connection to it. I feel like there is no real place that I can call mine, or point to and confidently say: “this is where I am came from”. My identity feels nomadic, floating in space. I feel from nowhere.



Marianne Hirsch defines ‘postmemory’ as “the relationship that the ‘generation after’ bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before-to”. Postmemory is a memory never directly experienced woven into the tension between the records of the past and the reconstruction of the present. A memory that is someone else’s yet one’s own. A projection of the past emerging from collective memory, family stories, upbringing, emotions, resentment, trauma, habits, historical education, photos, souvenirs, rituals

Postmemeory is passed on, given, and handed. It can be created through hearing horrifying and traumatizing stories or it can be felt in the silence and in the absence, recreated through filling the gaps. While postmemory does not imply any significant connection to the concept of erasure, in reality, these tend to often lie close to each other as events resulting in collective trauma often brought erasure with them. A collective lack of memory is when a group of people has gone through efforts aimed at their erasure or they are lacking a significant part of their identity can be seen as a generational trauma. My experience of postmemory is often an experience of what I did not get to know, it presents itself in blanc spaces, interrupted family histories, nomadic lack of belonging, and lack of local identity or cultural belonging.

This project is a visual exploration of the subject of postmemory, faded memory, blank spaces, fragmentary memory, and erasure.

“The whole time?!” – graphic novel

“The whole time?!” is a graphic novel about how at 23 years old I found out I have adhd.

It is not a story about what ADHD is, or its symptoms, it is a story about how it feels like to suddenly be able to grasp and understand your brain and realise that there has always been a reason for your struggles that you have spent a lifetime being blamed for and blaming yourself for.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition manifesting itself in excessive inattention, forgetfulness, impulsivity and emotional dysregulation. It can impact the ability to perform at school or job, or to do so without burning out; the ability to make and maintain friendships, one’s financial situation and even makes one more likely to develop substance abuse disorders. ADHD is widely underdiagnosed amongst women, afab people and people of colour as well as other minority groups. Having undiagnosed adhd leaves people without access to knowledge, treatment and support, making them more likely to develop anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, end up in debt and have a pattern of unstable relationships.

I made this novel while awaiting seeing a private specialist, as I was reflecting on all the ways my ADHD has formed my self-perception my entire life. It is an exploration of all the emotions that come along with processing all the unnecessary difficulties, suffering and blame that my past self and childhood self have gone through. Manifestation of a process of grieving who I could have been if I knew the whole time.