Urszula Usakowska-Wolff: At home in many languages and many countries
After her exams, Urszula Usakowska turned to journalism instead of going into teaching. At Radio Polonia, the foreign service for Polish radio, she was the cultural editor for the German-speaking schedule and she also published articles on culture in art magazines as well as translations of Romanian poetry in literary magazines and anthologies. She also emerged as a poet. She worked hard to get a deep and comprehensive insight into the Polish cultural scene and got to know a large number of personalities from literature and art who she would later go on to support in Germany.
On 13 December 1981 her job at the time ended abruptly. Urszula Usakowska was suspended from her work on state radio right at the start of martial law because she was active in the Solidarity movement. But thanks to her ability to speak several languages, she soon found a new role at Interpolkom, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and then in an Austrian company where her work in compensation transactions with lightbulbs had nothing to do with art ... which is why she commuted between Warsaw and Schwaz in the Tyrol from 1984 to 1986.
Her marriage to Manfred Wolff in 1986, who she had got to know on a trip to Tunisia, heralded the start of her work in Bad Oeynhausen where her husband headed up the civil service school. Urszula Usakowska-Wolff soon noticed that little was known about Polish art and culture. That became her mission. First, she opened a gallery in Herford which focused on contemporary Polish art, then she helped Jan Hoet set up the Herford Museum of Art MARTA. After that, she started her “flying gallery”. From 1990 to 2007, more than 60 exhibitions of Polish artists were brought to small and medium-sized towns; they were held in Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hessen, Saarland and Berlin. All the work needed to do this, she did with her husband: selecting the artists, transporting the works of art, hanging them, designing the invitation, the catalogue, the opening event. All that was left was for the mayor or mayoress of the town to give an opening address. Urszula Usakowska-Wolff never held the aspirational title of curator to accompany this work, she just went ahead and did it.
In 1996, she and her man were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Polish Order of Merit in recognition of their service to Polish culture in Germany, after both of them had already been awarded the Pegasus Prize by the Warsaw Academy of Arts.
Urszula Usakowska-Wolff has lived and worked in Berlin as a freelance multilingual journalist and author since 2006. The wide range of cultural events in museums, galleries and theatres give her ample material for reports in various Internet media, she can also be read in Poland. Along with her job as an art publicist, she is also a poet (“Perverse Verse” poetry volume), and a translator of Polish, German and Sorbian literature, poetry, and non-fiction books. “Language is an appropriate medium for verbalising pictures and visualising words. I try to find words for pictures so that pictures can develop from the words. I pay attention to the melody of the language because that is also a type of music”, she says.
Kaspar Koch, March 2021