If the city center’s iconic palm tree divided opinion when it was first unveiled, then it escaped relatively lightly compared to the fate of Warsaw’s most (in)famous public installation. For that, think back to the rainbow that once straddled Pl. Zbawiciela. Meant to symbolize “tolerance, diversity and openness,” Julita Wójcik’s work originally made its debut in Brussels to celebrate Poland’s Presidency of the EU before being transported to Warsaw on June 8th, 2012.
Composed of 22,300 artificial flowers, and topping out at a maximum height of nine meters, it proved an immediate source of conflict. Outraged by its positioning outside a church, not to mention its LGBT connotations (which, incidentally, were always denied by the artist), politician Stanisław Pięta called the rainbow “a provocation” and “a disgusting gesture”.
Priest Tadeusz Rydzyk went a step further, describing it to be a “symbol of deviancy”. Ludicrously, the rainbow found itself up against more than just rhetoric. Seven times it was set on fire, most notoriously by rampaging nationalists during the 2013 Independence Day riots.
Debate swirled around it. Some lobbied for it to be moved to a quieter part of town, others for its colors to be traded for the red and white of Poland. Most, however, simply saw it for it what it was: a playful artistic gesture that injected life into Warsaw.
It was no coincidence that the rainbow’s three year residence on Zbawiciela coincided with the area’s heyday: albeit for a brief but memorable flash in time, no other place in Warsaw captured the zeitgeist in quite the same manner.
Unofficially rebranded as Plac Hipstera on account of its trendy bars and extravagant customers, it was the rainbow that served to stitch all of those elements together. Finally dismantled at the end of August, 2015, its removal sucked the soul from Zbawiciela – from thereafter, it was never quite the same.
Still, hopes linger that it will one day return. Just a few years back, the illumination of a temporary rainbow hologram drew a crowd of thousands (as well as a significant police presence), and campaigners remain quietly optimistic that it could still reappear.