Izabela Mieszczanska, Photographer
"Guardians of Warsaw"
Izabela Mieszczanska, (1984 Warsaw, Poland) works in a variety of media, yet in recent years her focus has been photography. Mieszczanska graduated from Benedictine University in 2009, with a B.A. in Studio Art and Psychology.
It was during her studies at BU, under the supervision of Professor William Scarlato, Teresa Parker, and David Marcet, that Mieszczanska began to absorb her incisive interest form, composition and aesthetics, of her mentors, simultaneously intensifying her conceptual and visual cognition. These attributes assist Mieszczanska when composing, framing and choosing the crucial moment to capture an image.
While finishing her undergrad program at Benedictine University, Mieszczanska found herself, not only as an artist. She began to investigate her family's roots and the feeling of displacement, she had suffered since her immigration to the United States, in 1991. In 2008, Mieszczanska began, her work on the multimedia project, 'Roots,” from which spider webbed her first solo exhibitions, 'Warsaw the Phoenix' and 'Memories of Turmoil'. Each depicting the heroism, suffering and remembrance of the Polish people engulfed by WWII and the Warsaw Uprising.
Recently, Mieszczanska had returned to Warsaw, Poland, to continue the 'Roots' project, producing multiple photographic series: 'My Roots,' 'Warsaw's Treasures', 'Roofs Supported by History,' and 'Guardians of Warsaw.' Searching for intriguing color and compositions in decrepit places, helps Mieszczanska shin light on grim situations.
These extreme contrasts serve as a reminder that beauty exists always, both in spite of and because of things that are not beautiful. There is also a sense of domestic normality and peace that radiate from Mieszczaska's work. They supply the beholder with feelings of humility and thankfulness, trying to remind them that time never stops, life must always moves forward and rises like a phoenix from the ashes.
Mieszczanska's work can be found in numerous public and private art collections both in the United States and abroad, and has been seen in many exhibitions worldwide. She currently lives and works in Warsaw, Poland and Aurora, Illinois.
For the past four years, I have been digging up my roots. Returning to my hometown in Warsaw, after 20 years in the US, I have been discovering the customs of my forefathers.
The Guardians of Warsaw are shrines that are unique to the world, have become very dear to me and hunting for them has become one of my hobbies.
I never know where one might pop up and every time I come across these little photogenic gems, its like striking gold.
Shrines are nothing new to the Polish culture.
Wayside shrines, can be found throughout the world.
They've brought protection, hope and restored faith in passers-by.
Displaying the Virgin Mary, Jesus and or saintly figures, shrines come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as simple as a make-shift cross on a field and others are elaborately decorated, colorful, house-like structures.
They can be found hanging from forest trees, leading the way at crossroads, protecting a field
of crops, as well as standing guard in front of houses and in gardens.
It has been a long Polish tradition to keep God close by, but in the capital, Warsaw, shrines pose an extraordinary significance.
The oldest shrines in Warsaw date from the 17th Century.
Erected in remembrance of important events, to give thanks for protection from fire, hunger, sickness, or just to keep citizens safe from new catastrophes.
In March of 1943, Poland had been occupied by Germany for over four years and bad news just didn’t seem to have an end for the citizens of Warsaw.
Living in constant fear was taking a toll on them and they were in desperate need for help.
These mini prayer stations were the closest Warsaw's citizens could get to a sacred place to regain hope and faith.
With a curfew in effect, and the countless prohibitions, such as celebrating Catholic holidays, going to church, organizing public gatherings, or commemorating the tragic deaths of their loved ones, the people of Warsaw built shrines within their courtyards and stairways of apartment houses.
These tiny buildings not only served as a place of safe and private worship, but also rose as monuments or tomb stones for people whom had perished is the surrounding buildings.
Shrines functioned as mini churches, where weddings, baptisms and funerals took place.
Within one year of the beginning of the war with the Germans, hundreds, maybe even thousands of shrines were built in Warsaw's courtyards. They are the lucky few which survived the most destructive days Warsaw had ever seen, standing guard at their courtyards and streets.
The Guardians of Warsaw's radiant colors light up the gray, deteriorating, courtyards,
peppered with bullet holes from the war, creating beauty, a place of remembrance and supplying a daily dose of hope to the people they protect.
The most fascinating shrines display dates before and during WWII.
The amount of new shrines nearly tripled between 1943-1944.
Courtyard shrines were also, built as diversions to cover up any Jews, who might be hiding close by. Bad news just didn’t seem to have an end for the citizens of Warsaw.
Today, there are about 500 left, yet the exact number of shrines that were created is
impossible to calculate, because of the numerous German and Soviet bombings,
which took place during WWII.
The Guardians of Warsaw are maintained by the effort and desire of the local tenants,
who switch out the decorations with each season, renovate statues, their shelters,
and always adding a hodgepodge of personal tokens of remembrance inside.
These shrines have no official historical significance, other than to serve as a reminder of the perseverance of the citizens of Warsaw to express their faith and hope during a dark time.
Today, they serve one single purpose to remind us to...