The project What I Kept began with an open-ended question to international women of Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee. My hope was to inspire dialogue about the globalization of our community through stories centered on objects—a chance to recognize and celebrate the journeys of women and a way to connect the University community with the greater community. Women could choose any object they kept from their country of origin and write a statement about why they kept the object. Without any preconceived ideas about what might happen, I hoped for surprises and an opportunity to build trust between the museum as a public space and the women. Whatever their object or story, there would be a place to see and hear them.
I experienced an unexpected consequence while curating What I Kept —an awakening of my own identity as the great granddaughter of Ewa Karwacz, my busia. Ewa came to the United States alone from Sanok, Poland at the age of fourteen. Much remains a mystery to me about her, but by hearing these women’s stories, I know my busia must be smiling. I realize I am keeping her memory and heritage alive when I wear amber, drink coffee from a Boleslawiec cup, and save the dirt of Sanok, Poland on my dresser—I will pass these objects on to my own daughter. I want to thank the women of What I Kept for this unexpected personal outcome.
penny dodds karwacz
photographs of women and their objects by Jason Miller