Tri-city artist Julita Wójcik is a familiar name in the Polish art world, though few of her works have created such a stir as her rainbow installation on Warsaw’s pl. Zbawiciela. Meant to symbolize ‘tolerance, diversity and openness’, it’s been targeted by arsonists four times. The Insider talks to Wójcik on the eve of the rainbow’s resurrection.
WI: The rainbow was meant to demonstrate Poland was a tolerant country – the fires, the scandals, surely these show you’ve failed?
JW: The most important thing is the progress. The rainbow isn’t just about LGBT issues, but connected to tolerance in general. We have to stand up to nationalism and extremism.
WI: Politician Stanislaw Pieta has called the rainbow ‘a provocation’ and ‘a disgusting gesture’. Have you ever met your detractors?
JW: I’ve had no dialogue with these people. None of these politicians have ever asked to meet me. What they come out with is political rhetoric to make their own name and push their own cause. The rainbow is used by them to promote their own agenda.
WI: How did you react when you heard it had first been attacked?
JW: The first fire was at about 3 a.m., and I woke up at 8 a.m. to find missed messages from the Mickiewicz Institute who own the installation. I could guess something had happened to it, but it was my postman who told me when he knocked on my door a few minutes later. I just felt really surprised. Why burn a rainbow? I was obviously aware that it had caused controversy, but I didn’t believe people could behave like that. Now, I find it almost symbolic that even after it was first destroyed people have tried to destroy it further. For all that, I knew the day would come when it was reconstructed.
WI: Can’t you just fireproof it!?
JW: Well, the rainbow isn’t made from flammable material – you can’t just set fire to it with a lighter. Check the burn marks, you don’t need to be a fireman to be able to see that these fires were created by people who came prepared to destroy it.
WI: What do you think of the arsonists?
JW: I want to hear their opinions, to find their reasons. We need to find a solution.
I want to have a dialogue but sometimes
I think this dialogue is only possible in my head – these people attack it in the middle of the night, or hide behind computers and write bad things online. But I read their opinions, I want to understand them.
WI: The cost of rebuilding the rainbow is reportedly zł. 64,000. Should art be publicly funded?
JW: This figure has caused problems because Polish people aren’t used to knowing where public money is going. The figure, also, doesn’t just include the cost of the new rainbow, but all the work and people connected with it. The issue of public funding has become almost a private battle. I feel I have to fight for my right to be part of this society. All my artistic education was in Poland, and yet now people try to make me feel like a thief for making art my living.
WI: What do you want to be remembered for?
JW: For my smile and for being open to people. I wanted to involve people with the rainbow, to make it open and accessible to the public. A lot of people hate artists, they think they don’t need them. But I want to show people that art is like poetry; that art is open to them, as well.