The Rainbow (Tęcza) – Polish symbol of fight

by Ula Lewicka

Almost one year ago, during the night between the 26th and 27th of August 2015 a colourful installation that decorated the Redeemer Square in Warsaw was dismantled once and for all. The plastic flowers that built the colours of the Rainbow (as that was the name of the installation) were handed out to the interested people, its metal skeleton deposited in the storehouse of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (a government-sponsored organization promoting Polish language and Polish culture abroad) and the project’s licences were forwarded to the Centre of Contemporary Art, Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw. Nationalists, vandals and generally all the people being in opposition to the installation could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
TÄ™cza (Polish name for the rainbow) is a multi-coloured arc caused by the dispersion of light in the water droplets. A rainbow connects two remote points with a set of colours and probably there exists no other thing that would better symbolise the idea of reconciliation or conjunction. In the Bible, the rainbow represents the alliance between God and the humankind; in Greek mythology it was equated with the path made by Iris between the earth and the sky; in Norse mythology the rainbow is a bridge that reaches between the world of humans and the realm of gods. In the 16th century the rainbow was used by the Cooperative movement as a symbol of hope, of a new era and changes during the German Peasants’ War, while in many other countries it is considered the symbol of piece. Since the 1970s the rainbow (with six colors) is used as an indicator of LGBT social movements, expressing the diversity of the societies.
At the Redeemer Square in Warsaw diverse were for sure the colours of the mohair hats, worn by the oldest habitants of the Polish capital. Under the arc of the installation they opposed any type of “inventions” coming with “invasive” Western “civilization of death” like homosexuality, gender studies, abortion, contraception, contemporary art, as well as immigrants, communists, intellectuals, cyclists, hipsters, feminists, and actually everyone who dares to oppose to the traditional world order or think in a different way. Symbol of alliance, diversity and tolerance, during its life in Warsaw (three years) it was set on fire seven times. The Rainbow divided people instead of connecting them, or rather it exposed the rift already existing in Polish society, culture and politics, that could be illustrated with the help of those who were supporting the installation and those who decided to be against it. But we should start from the beginning.
TÄ™cza was created for the first time in August 2010 in the village of Wigry, in north-eastern Poland. For the period of four months the installation (consisting of the half arc of the rainbow) propped up the walls of the dilapidating, former Camaldelose monastery, connecting the beautiful architecture with the surrounding nature, and trying to stop the process of disintegration, giving some hope for a better future. The work was created by Julita Wójcik, a Polish contemporary artist, also known for peeling potatoes in the rooms of ZachÄ™ta National Gallery of Art, using the needlework in her practice and encouraging people to work on her projects, taking the example from the structures of the farmer’s wives’ associations. The rainbow she created for Wigry was not the last one.
In September 2011 a bigger version of the Rainbow (9 meters high and 26 meters wide) was created for the series of projects in the public space called “Fossils and Gardens”, during the first Polish Presidency of the European Union in Brussels. The Installation, consisting of 8 tons of metal frame and 16 thousand colourful flowers, was placed on the square in front of the European Parliament for three months, to make a brighter and more vivid space out of this otherwise grey and empty place.
Finally, on the 8th of June 2012 the same Rainbow was reconstructed at the Redeemer Square in Warsaw, in vicinity of the church built between 1901 and 1911, and of some hip bars and cafes surrounding the square. As it has been told, the arc of the rainbow emphasised the geometry of the arcades and the semi-circular arrangement of the buildings around the square. Actually the proximity of the Mickiewicz Institute building was a contributory factor in the decision on Redeemer Square as its location , as the project’s licences at that time were owned by the Mickiewicz Institute itself. On the other hand, the idea to place the installation at the Redeemer Square triggered the three-year-long war between two opposing parties within Poland; those against the Rainbow and its location, and those for it. Such specific division reflected the division in the whole Polish society: those of the “better kind” of the one part, and those of the “worst” of the other (I am using here the epithets used for both groups by the Polish conservative politicians and the chairman of the right-wing Law and Justice Party). Those believing in God and the nonbelievers, the “real patriots” and the “national betrayers”, those “sane” and those “perverted”, the “right-wingers” and the “left-wingers”, those “working their socks off” and the artists , the “real Polish” and the ones “not real” — meaning (in case of doubt): everyone who is not Polish, or half-Polish, or having Jewish/German/etc. surname or roots, everyone who is not white, not catholic and not heterosexual. Since nowadays “real Polish” can be only the white ones, the Catholics, better if male, heterosexual, right-wing, and nationalist (being patriot is no longer enough); one who opts for the walls in Europe, for immigrants dying in their home countries, for women staying silent at home and for the “blood purity”.
The Rainbow was supposed to stay only for three months and to be simply free (from any political and social connotations) and beautiful, bringing joy to the inhabitants of Warsaw. Instead it became the spark that ignited the conflict between two visions for the future of Poland, manifesting itself in the continuous vandal attacks and attempts to repair what had been destroyed. Right-wing newspapers and parish communities boiled with rage: none of them wanted the Rainbow to be at a such sacred place as Redeemer Square. Firstly, the installation was considered hideous and it occluded the sight of the Church of the Holiest Saviour, secondly it was equated with the “perverted and un-natural” (quote) LGBT social movements and their clandestine promotion of “sick moral”, sold under the cover of a colorful work of art. Thirdly, the installation was associated with the rotten West with its slim jeans, openness for the minorities and tolerance.
On the opposite side stood those, who believed in the tolerance and openness, who advocated equal rights for women, immigrants and homosexuals, who urged a “colorful” Poland, that treats every inhabitant with respect and finally who believed in contemporary art and its right to be exhibited in public spaces. Those were ready to defend the Rainbow not only as a work of art but even more as a symbol of an open and tolerant country.
In the intention of the artist, the purpose of the Rainbow was to connect pop culture with the fine art, the Judeo-Christian symbolism with the secular, contemporary culture. It was actually supposed to mean nothing more than a meteorological phenomenon, that “appears after the rain, together with the first sun rays, giving hope for the best weather” (as Julita Wójcik said). We can see such role of the installation in its first exhibition of 2010, where the half arc stressed the need of the wall’s reparation. In 2012, probably less consciously, the installation attracted people’s attention to the huge fissure inside the Polish society, as well as to the existence of strong xenophobia and homophobia inside the right-wing groups. It was supposed to stay only for three months, but it ended up staying for three years, being burnt and repaired several times. In 2013 it was totally destroyed and later collaboratively rebuilt from the scratch. Token of hope for a better and more tolerant Poland, it became a “sign of depravation” and started to be used as a place for manifestations against gender studies and novelties coming from the West, such as gender equality and women’s empowerment, sexual education at school, contraception, more liberal abortion laws and laws in favor of homosexuals.

Nationalists like to boast of their own victories (Miljenko Jergović) and the demolition of the installation at the end of August 2015 was considered such (even if the project was planned as a temporary installation and it actually stayed in the square much longer than it was initially planned). In September people sympathetic with the whole project believed that the Rainbow would have appeared in some other place, maybe in a bit different format; a digital album with the commemorative photos and a documentary were planned, and there were some rumors that the same installation would appear in front of the Centre of Contemporary Art Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw. Unfortunately, after one year there is no rainbow displayed in any of the above mentioned forms. Instead, there is a greater consent for the persecution and aggression against the minorities and different, “inappropriate” views. More physical and spoken attacks happen against immigrants or people (as well as organizations) called “leftist”, or connected with LGTB movements or simply against what is seen as “something different”. The right-wing party, for which the “defenders of the white, heterosexual and rightful Polishness” voted, won the Autumn elections and on 16 November 2015 they established a new government, promising further steps and measures to implement the “good change”.

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