Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw hosts a new play by Bartosz Frąckowiak presented as part of the residency of Biennale Warsaw at the Departament of Presence.
They are practically everywhere. In fashionable Warsaw restaurants, on construction sites, in closed factories, in processing plants, orchards and on farms. They come from Ukraine, Belarus, Korea, Philippines, China, Vietnam. Sometimes they are Poles. The Global Slavery Index report reveals that in 2016 in Poland there were over 181,000 modern slaves, which amounts to 0.476% of the Polish population. But in this case, slavery is not a metaphor for describing any type of exploitation. We are talking about forced unpaid work, connected with human trafficking or bonded labour. We decided to investigate and verify where these data come from, and to what situations, places and stories they are connected. And finally, to answer the question: why is this phenomenon completely invisible and rarely discussed in the public debate. From this activity, the play-exhibition emerged.
Apart from the in-depth analysis of the local situation, in our action we confront testimonies, narratives, visual materials, documents and thoughts from various parts of the world, drafting the history of the development of capitalism from the slaves’ perspective. But eventually, it is not the historical perspective that becomes superior, but the archaeology of today and the reflection on slavery as a symptom of the future of work. If we want to imagine a different work than hired labour based on hierarchy, subordination and violence, we need to ponder its radical extreme, which is modern slavery.
We show slavery as a modern global phenomenon, with its various faces and expressions, connected with dramas and biographies of very different people from different cultures, religions and races. But we want to emphasise that slaves don’t live far away, on phantasmal and unreal plantations, but also just behind the wall of the fanciest Warsaw restaurant. After all, in statistics concerning slavery, Poland takes the shameful first place in the European Union.
Therefore, we will also be talking about contemporary Warsaw and its slave stories, stories of particular people. It was precisely for this purpose that we attempted a documentary investigation. Its reconstruction constitutes an important part of the play-exhibition. From the attempt to understand slavery in Warsaw emerges a kind of new topography of the city. We talk about it, while creating a kind of alternative counter-cartography of urban violence.
Following every crisis of capitalism and related economic downturn, the process of primary capital accumulation must be repeated in a new form. This is when dispossessions, particular movements of human masses, migrations, and new forms of colonialism occur. This is also when slavery becomes particularly significant. It doesn’t constitute a barbaric relic of the past, an Oriental mirage which emerges from historical accounts of travellers to Africa. It isn’t just a fantasy about a 19th century American South, or images from slave ships crossing to America for the transatlantic slave trade. Currently, all over the world, the number of slaves – people who don’t receive any pay for their forced labour, is considerably higher than the number of slaves transported across the Atlantic during 350 years of slavery.
According to the Global Slavery Index of 2016, as many as 45.8 million people live currently as modern slaves. There isn’t much we know about them.
Krzysztof Kaliski, Maciej Szymborski