Quirky exhibition based on award-winning book Quarks, Elephants and Pierogi opens in London

The book, which introduces people to the Polish language and culture in a fun and light-hearted way, is now the basis for the exhibition at Clapham library. Grażyna Makara/culture.pl

Quarks, Elephants and Pierogi has descended on London, with a whimsical exhibition introducing Polish culture in a new, unexpected manner.

Held in the Clapham Library and based on the award winning book, the display shows the essence of the country using a selection of colourful graphics and choice words, crucial to understanding Poles, their habits and traditions.

'Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words' was written by Mikołaj Gliński, Matthew Davies and Adam Żuławski and illustrated by Magda Burdzyńska, who is also responsible for the exhibition design.

The exhibition uses a selection of colourful graphics and choice words crucial to understanding Poles, their habits and traditions.Magdalena Burdzyńska/culture.pl

The publication began as a series of articles ‘Poland, Word by Word’ on the Culture.pl website.

Particular words where used as entry points to the world of Polish culture, history, traditions and everyday habits and eccentricities.

The colourful illustrations introduce visitors to stately kings (król) and female MPs (posłanka) alongside tongue-twisting beetles (chrząszcz) and a cheerful bunch (ferajna).Barbara Dorrell

Davies, who began the series, focused on words he encountered most often after moving to Poland from Wales.

With the added elements of linguistics and etymology, the authors were ready to work on a book.

The “Quarks, elephants and pierogi” in London’s Clapham Library exhibition is available for free until October 28th.Katarzyna Haus

Adam Żuławski told TFN what points convinced them to do it: “One was that we could make something that Poles would want to share and give to their non-Polish friends and relatives, and secondly was that this was a way for our online work to reach new audiences.”

Apart from the previously published entries, the challenge was to choose the 100 words, that could comprehensively present Poland’s heritage.

Co-author Adam Żuławski told TFN the purpose of the book and the exhibition was to “make something that Poles would want to share and give to their non-Polish friends and relatives.”Grażyna Makara/culture.pl

Żuławski continued: “We wanted a mix of words that included words that people would encounter all the time, words that taught you something about Polish history and culture, words that were examples of how the Polish language works, and words that were simply unique to Poland in one way or another.

The book was illustrated by Magda Burdzyńska, who is also responsible for the exhibition design.Magdalena Burdzyńska/culture.pl

“We also wanted to include words that not even Poles would expect, words that most didn't realise had Polish connections. (..) There are obviously some words that other people would've included, but ultimately, this was our collective choice, and I think the final selection has led to a finished product that both delights and informs.”

The result was worth the effort. ‘Quarks, Elephants and Pierogi’ is a vivid and fun way of speaking about a culture, that is too often focused on its most sombre aspects and reliving its tumultuous history.

A large neon Pierogi illustrates one of Poland’s defining dishes.Dagmara Smolna

What comes out is a vibrant and humorous tale, which includes stately kings (król) and female MPs (posłanka) alongside tongue-twisting beetles (chrząszcz) and a cheerful bunch (ferajna).

“The feedback has been extremely positive! The only occasional complaint we hear is about the lack of somebody's particular favourite word, but this was always going to be inevitable since we had limited ourselves to just 100.

Żuławski explained that the 100 words chosen for the book “included words that people would encounter all the time, words that taught you something about Polish history and culture, words that were examples of how the Polish language works, and words that were simply unique to Poland in one way or another.”Grażyna Makara/culture.pl

“People also write to us saying they're finding it hard to track down a copy – the book seems to sell out rather quickly wherever it appears! That's quite a nice compliment, in all honesty,” concludes Żuławski.

The “Quarks, elephants and pierogi” in London’s Clapham Library exhibition is available for free until October 28th.