Commie-era mosaic for ‘working classes’ entered into National Register of Movable Monuments
Emblematic of the PRL aesthetic, a Warsaw mosaic has been entered into the National Register of Movable Monuments over 50 years after it was first unveiled.
Decorating the façade of the former Saturn factory, the work was commissioned in 1965 by a disabled cooperative that oversaw the running of the production facility after they moved to new premises in the capital’s Wawer district.
Announcing the legislation, the Provincial Conservator praised the work in a brief public statement: “This monumental mosaic from the 1960s, located at ul. Rezedowa 19, was part of the ‘humanization’ of industrial spaces, the motivation behind which was to introduce contemporary art beyond art galleries, as well as to raise the cultural knowledge of the so-called working class.
“The reason ceramic cladding was used in this type of project was down to its durability and low material cost, and such projects appeared frequently in the iconic post-war modernist 60s and 70s architecture of Warsaw; however, as it stands the façade of the now non-existent Saturn is the only example of an external mosaic associated with industrial space that has survived in Wawer.”
Established in 1950, the Saturn factory employed disabled workers many of whom had suffered life-changing injuries during the war.
Specializing in the production of latex items, the facility became well-known for its diverse output of rubber ducks, baby pacifiers, bicycle tubes, beach balls, bathing caps, gloves and eye droppers.
When production was moved to a new network of one-storey buildings on the Marysin Wawerski estate, Domicella Bożekowska was hired to decorate the exterior.
Firing the ceramics herself, the artist’s five-metre long mosaic was packed with metaphorical meaning, including zodiac signs referencing the building’s tenants.
Vibrant in colour and compelling in its detail, Bożekowska’s project was previously deemed impressive enough to be included in Paweł Giergoń’s epic guide to Warsaw’s mosaic: “The theme of the mosaic was closely related to the profile of the plant,” wrote the art historian.
“The composition is divided into six parts, each of which presents a different motif related to the products that were made.
“There are also elements of magic, alchemical patterns and instruments, astrological signs and, of course, animals: a lion, dragon, swan, snake and pelican.”
Lauded by Professor Jakub Lewicki, the Mazovian Provincial Conservator of Monuments, the mosaic was hailed for its creativity and craftsmanship as well as for the glimpse it afforded into the changing face of 1960s visual arts.
Still in good condition despite token nicks, the work’s entry into the Registry of Movable Monuments is particularly notable in that it serves to guarantee the mosaic’s preservation even if the decision is taken to eventually demolish the building it is currently attached to.
A former student of Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts, the Saturn project is commonly regarded as the first major project to be undertaken by Bożekowska.
In later years, her portfolio was extended to include a 30-metre mosaic in Katowice’s Staszic mining complex, as well as individual exhibitions in Vienna, Kathmandu, New Delhi, Prague and Berlin.
When Martial Law was declared, she was able to flee to Germany though kept contacts with her native Poland and was able to resurrect her domestic reputation after the political transformation.
Though a sculptress first and foremost, she was also a highly talented painter and illustrator: when Athens hosted the 2004 ARTiade to accompany the Olympics, two of her pictures were among the 171 selected from a choice of 3,500 submissions.
After a rich and varied career, she died in 2017 at the age of 92.