Entrance, Brodno Sculpture Park

History and Art in Warsaw’s Bródno District

Published: March 18, 2024

Most foreigners in Warsaw tend to the stick to the center of the city and Old Town, with some maybe venturing as far as the Praga district. Being that these areas are mostly discovered and easy to tour — along with being packed with tourists and locals — I decided to start taking trams to the more distant districts of Warsaw, places where most apartment buildings are architectural leftovers from the Soviet era and which have been slower to evolve with the modern age. One such district — and my favourite of all so far — is the Targówek District, a bit further past the better-known Praga.

I initially went into this area to go hiking in the Bródno Forest (Bródnowski Las), in that district. After a peaceful and invigorating hike, I decided to check out surrounding area, and found three amazing sites: Bródno Sculpture Park, Bródno Cemetery (Polish: Cmentarz Bródnowski), and the Bródno Jewish Cemetery (Cmentarz Żydowski Bródnowskiego).

Nowhere else in Warsaw have I encountered such an acute sense of the historical directly adjacent to the contemporary.

Bródno Sculpture Park is a free, quiet, and open 24/7. It was started in 2009 by Paweł Althamer, an internationally recognized Polish sculptor who was inspired to put Polish artist Grzegorz Kowalski’s concept of “Common Space — Individual Space” into practice. This concept seeks to neutralize individualism in the interaction/communication of artists and viewers.

There are a total of eleven sculptures by various artists scattered around the park. It is a project of social, participative character, with roots in abstract and minimalist art. Althamer has two contributions: “The Garden of Eden” and “Sylwia,” both of which were, in fact community creations. “Sylwia” was created in partnership with artist Grupa Nowolipie and community members with multiple sclerosis who used the art as a form of therapy and rehabilitation. “The Garden of Eden” was also a collaborative effort with community members of the local area, including elementary school students. This sculpture garden thus represents the formation of community around objects that provide an opportunity for gathering, meeting, and taking action together.

One artist, Honorata Martin, lived in the park for weeks in 2015, residing in a tent as a way to perform the idea of inhabiting a city park. Because her piece was inherently ephemeral, only traces of the performance are left. There is a bas-relief called “God the Monkey,” installed where her tent was set up (in Paweł Althamer’s “Garden of Eden”) and poems painted on the pavement by Andrzej Przybysz, a local poet who participated in her performance in the park.

Some of the works are not even visible, as with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s piece, “To Be Found”: Weiwei buried three cylinders filled with broken pottery, earth, and turf, serving as a conceptual art piece that explores the boundaries of the visible and the invisible, the accessible and the inaccessible. This piece really challenged me, as it forced me to accept that not all things “public” are necessarily accessible.

When considering these three sites — Bródno Sculpture Park, Bródno Cemetery, and Bródno Jewish Cemetery — as part of a whole Bródno, an intense amalgamation of suffering, survival, creativity and joy come to the forefront. Long walks in this area have helped stimulate my creativity and deepen my understanding historical and contemporary Poland, as well as my understanding of Polish cultural weaknesses and strengths in the past and present.


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About the author

Rebekah Switala

Rebekah Switala is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is working on her Master’s degree in Central and East European Studies with specialization in women and gender. She received her BA from Western Michigan University in 2011, graduating magna cum laude, after which time she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a women’s rights organization in North Moldova. She is studying Polish in Warsaw and is undertaking an internship at Political Critique there. She intends on pursuing a Ph.D. after completing her Master’s.

View all posts by: Rebekah Switala