Joanna Rajkowska in Conversation with Michał Wybieralski

Michał Wybieralski: Why do you want to build a minaret in Poznań? The minaret is to a change a fragment of the urban landscape in a surreal fashion. So as to make it necessary to see, understand, and assimilate it anew. I’m also building it so that we finally start talking about issues we’ve been ignoring so far. About our coexistence with Moslems, about Islam, the position of women in that culture and religion. Poland is not an isolated island so these fundamental issues concern us today and will increasingly concern us as things progress. Some people say I want to create an ecumenical bridge between religions, or promote tolerance. Well, these are misinterpretations, I have no such intentions. I don’t want to confront people and encourage them to shake hands. It is us who must define ourselves towards the minaret and Moslems. I only want to broaden Poznań’s visual, and therefore cultural, perspective. I’ve been appealing for years for more diversity in our white, homogeneous and Catholic society. Let me also add that Poznań has a sizeable Moslem community, estimated at about 1,000 people. And if we start to argue over the minaret? It depends on how we do it. There are productive and creative conflicts. But if the minaret results in a dispute that leaves people divided forever, it will be a failure. I can hardly imagine all the possible reactions to the project today. So you just let off a bomb and see what happens? In a way, yes. Each of my projects so far has been like letting off a bomb and watching the effects of the explosion. But you need to remember that these explosions are symbolic and therefore, in a way, safe. They are like mirrors of potential explosions in the real world. We can examine ourselves in them, recognise our own reactions. So perhaps this make-believe minaret is a safety valve protecting us from real explosions in our relations with Islam? A safety valve lets people let off steam. Then they start talking on a different emotional level. A conversation about a symbolic minaret has a different tinge and a different point of reference than a conversation about a real one. So the safety valve principle is present here, to an extent at least. But I wouldn’t like this whole discussion to lose the edge of realness. We are talking about important things here. Religious issues have fundamental importance for many people. Cultural differences often affect us in a painful manner. The project, although unrealised yet, already lives. It has been widely commented on in the local media and the internet. It has its sworn opponents. Leaflets have been circulated warning against the construction in Poland of ‘Trojan horses’ aiding the expansion of Islam. The Krasnals, an artistic collective, made a film making fun of the minaret, accusing you of pompousness and false tolerance-mongering. On the one hand, it is good that all these reactions have been caused by a mere simulation. Intellectual ferment is always a good thing, and I know what to be fear and which intuitions to follow. It is a pity that many of them are pure speculation around misinterpreted intentions and misunderstood descriptions. The Krasnals are nothing to talk about, they are intellectual zeros, which is probably why they remain anonymous. They make purely marketing gestures so that someone buys their paintings that parasite on other people’s projects. The minaret doesn’t express your views on Islam. So what are these views? A mixture of familiarity and strangeness. I’ve been to Palestine and Turkey. I saw women locked up between the kitchen and the bedroom. Intimidated, frightened, unable to define themselves in any way. It was quite frightening. But, contrary to what it might seem, many of those women were happy. Probably because they know no other reality. On the other hand, I felt that our cultures interpenetrated, were very close to each other. Palestinian homes are not different from provincial Polish homes: the same beiges and browns, the same carpets, roses in glass balls, the same love of kitsch. And you feel closeness, warmth, cordial directness. I loved to be entertained in people’s homes. Many men in Palestine gave me a lift to the next town, acting like a father does towards his daughter. I was left with an ambivalent feeling, because I felt good with those men but sorry for their women. I had to build a firm hierarchy in all relations, partnership was out of the question. And that was probably the most unfamiliar thing.