Stunning mural of musical legend Czesław Niemen appears in Warsaw suburb
Widely hailed as one of the greatest bards in modern Polish history, a new mural honouring the memory of musician Czesław Niemen has been unveiled in the same Warsaw district that helped inspire one of his most famous hits, Sen o Warszawie (Dream About Warsaw).
Situated on ul. Płytowa 14 deep in the suburb of Białołęka, the artwork richly references the life and works of the singer-songwriter with features including gold record discs in place of Niemen’s eyes in a nod to his best-selling album, Dziwny jest ten świat (The World Is Strange).
Speaking to the press, the artist behind the creation, Bruno Althamer, explained that these should be interpreted as a homage to an album that ultimately sold an estimated 150,000 copies, thereby becoming the first Polish record to go gold.
Furthermore, added Althamer, the location itself was by no means incidental. Płytowa, which translates to English as ‘disc’, was seen as the ideal address to celebrate his best-selling work.
“It was there, by the Żerański Canal, that large factories produced huge building panels destined for the new housing estates of Warsaw,” says Althamer, “so it was there that the image of today’s city – the Warsaw dream – was originally realized.”
Adorned with fantastical flowers and ferns the mural is abundant in surrealistic colours and detail and includes images of Warsaw buildings from both the PRL era as well as more contemporary times. Already, critics have interpreted this as an admiring tribute to Niemen’s ongoing relevance to Polish culture.
Born Czesław Juliusz Wydrzycki in 1939 in Stare Wasiliszki in what is now Belarus, the former choirboy cut his teeth playing in student cabaret clubs before achieving recognition with the band Niebiesko-Czarni. Touring to appreciative audiences in Hungary, Yugoslavia and France, it was in the latter that he decided to change his surname to the more easily-pronounced Niemen – fame, he realized, was beckoning.
When Marlene Dietrich performed in Warsaw’s Palace of Culture & Science in 1964, Niemen was chosen as the opening act and impressed the songstress so much with his rendition of Czy mnie jeszcze pamiętasz? (Do You Still Remember Me?) that she would later record her own version titled Mutter, Hast du Mir Vergeben? (Mother, Have You Forgiven Me?).
His biggest triumphs, however, were yet to come.
With the world spinning off its cultural and social axis in the mid-to-late 60s, Niemen tapped into the spirit of the time becoming one of the first Poles to adopt a long-haired look and psychedelic style, a move that was met with widespread displeasure among the communist elite.
Despite the umbrage he caused the conservative traditionalists, his music captivated the public and installed him as a hero of the time; presenting sounds and styles previously unheard of from Polish artists, his poetic lyrics slotted perfectly alongside his experimental use of instruments and avant garde personality.
Dying in 2004 from cancer, his legacy continues to this day, not least in Warsaw, a city that has come to embrace Niemen as one of its own, a point never more apparent than when Sen o Warszawie is recited with spinetingling gusto before each Legia Warszawa match; when Metallica recently visited the Polish capital, it was their cover of the aforementioned hit that brought the most tumultuous cheers of the night.
Whilst the mural is already on show, its official revealing is slated for December 20th, a date specifically chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Niemen first going gold.
For Bruno Althamer, meanwhile, the hype surrounding his latest work neatly bookends a glorious year that began with the unmasking of another landmark mural, that depicting the rock legend Kora.
Set behind Warsaw’s Branicki Palace, it was strategically placed amid trees to give the impression of hair loss and growth with the passing of each season. Already established as one of Warsaw’s favourite pieces of outdoor art, it’s set to be soon joined by Niemen as one of the city’s cult sites.