#photography & visual arts
Piotr Uklański's work made for the 2004 São Paulo Art Biennial, where he represented Poland. He explained its genesis: “I displayed something that is most typical for Poland, the most common within the country and renown worldwide. Poland's ultimate symbol – the image of the Pope.”
Uklański created a monumental photograph measuring 4×5 m, which showed Pope John Paul II's head. This was not, however, a conventional portrait. In order to produce it, the artist set up a mass event to which he invited approximately 3.5 thousand Brazilian soldiers, asking them to line up along the contours of the Pope's head drawn on the ground. The face was filled in with soldiers who were asked to remove their tops, while the Pope's Zucchetto was formed by the rest, who wore white shirts. Thus created monumental drawing was then photographed from the bird's eye view. Due to the dark complexion of Brazilians, Uklański's John Paul II gained tanned, dusky features, and, consequently, the nickname Papa Mulato (from the local media).
The work was created in three principal forms: large format photograph, a smaller photographic print, and a billboard.
In 2005, a billboard with the portrait of John Paul II was mounted on a scaffolding installed in one of Warsaw's central crossings (corner of Marszałkowska and Świętokrzyska Streets) – the future location of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Uklański later donated the piece to MoMA Warsaw.
Two weeks after Uklański's piece appeared in the centre of Warsaw, John Paul II died. As a result, the poster with the photograph became a temporary memorial, to which people carried flowers and candles. The image of Pope in the public space suddenly started functioning as a symbolic altar and a place for religious meditation.
John Paul II
pope john paul
sao paulo biennial
museum of modern art in warsaw
Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Pope John Paul II)
Produced by Open Art Projects Foundation
Author: Ewa Gorządek, May 2015, transl. Ania Micińska, June 2015