Stand aside Wrocław and your gnomes, Katowice has Beboks!
Seeking to emulate the success of Wrocław’s trail of gnomes, Katowice has found itself at the centre of a similar initiative honouring the mythological ‘bebok’.
Thought to have been derived from ancient Silesian demonology, these strange creatures were later introduced into children’s stories to act as bogeyman figures. Small in stature, the wicked beboki would only pick on those of the same height or shorter.
Perhaps better described as a goblin-type individual, their depictions often varied widely due to the Silesian habit of passing stories from mouth-to-mouth rather than in a consistent written form.
As a result, their actual physicality would often differ depending on the source – in accordance with some, the bebok was little more than a scruffy, shaggy man with head half-hidden under a bobble hat. Others, though, pictured the bebok as a devilish, hairy black figure.
Most, though, agreed that the bebok would rarely be seen without a stick and a bag with which to beat and kidnap any errant children.
More recently, however, they have been reimagined entirely by Grzegorz Chudy.
A former student of Katowice’s Academy of Fine Arts, the one-time teacher and musician later opted to pursue art full-time and quickly gained attention for his imaginative watercolours.
Presenting Silesian landmarks to a backdrop interspersed with surreal touches such as trams floating away on hot-air balloons, Chudy also introduced the bebok to his paintings.
Speaking to TFN, the artist explained: “It’s likely these were created a long, long time ago to scare children into obedience. The ones I started featuring, mind you, are far more inconspicuous – in fact, they are rather friendly.”
Rethinking their persona with the aid of his daughter, Chudy’s beboks could instead be found making snowmen, playing music, or crossing the road in the style of the Abbey Road album cover.
Noted for their colourful, outsized shoes and innocent, big eyes, they quickly became a steady feature in his work.
“My daughter and I like to think that the beboks only created ‘dark legends’ around themselves so that people would leave them in peace,” added the artist.
Having been pushed back into local consciousness through the medium of Chudy’s art (not to mention a range of cuddly toys, mugs, fridge magnets and through his illustrated story books), the weird creatures now stand to be further popularized via miniature models.
Unveiled on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by both Chudy and the Mayor, two 40-centimetre tall figurines made their debut in front of Galeria Katowicka.
“I designed them myself,” said Chudy, “and seeing that they would be placed outside a shopping centre I gave one of them a shopping bag.”
The Mayor, Marcin Krupa, used the opportunity to remind the gathered onlookers that rubbing the noses of the figures would guarantee good luck. On a more serious note, Krupa praised the action as a grass-roots social initiative.
Due to be named later this month following a public competition held via social media, the pair join the ones already standing in the Nikiszowiec district where the artist has his studio.
Depicting a pickaxe-wielding bebok – a reference to the area’s rich mining heritage – and another sitting on a window ledge sipping coffee outside a local café, the current crop are to be boosted by the appearance of others later in the year.
Should things proceed as planned, one more will appear in Nikiszowiec and yet another outside the nearby porcelain factory.
How the public responds is another matter. While Chudy’s beboks have been warmly received, memories still linger of the catastrophic attempt to create a trail of fairy tale figures in the city back in 2016.
Featuring six characters from Silesian legend (among them a bebok), and sponsored by the Legendia theme park, these found themselves stolen or destroyed within days.
Recast in heavier, supposedly vandal-proof form, these too soon found themselves disappearing from their mounts with only the bebok supposedly surviving the wanton iconoclasm.