‘What is absolutely crucial for me is the relationship between the work, a real work in real space, and the body. One can hardly discuss a project’s impact on the public sphere if the project is not physically there, if everyone only imagines how it would look like. Minaret is not there. Poznań will not see it. Everything else matters a lot, but not for the life of the city, which, in its substance – evolving, ageing, fluid – has remained unchanged.’ Joanna Rajkowska
This Is a Story of a Minaret that Never Happened is a series of projects completing over two years’ work on the Minaret project.
The title is not a provocation, rather an admission of failure and lack of hope for making the Minaret come true in Poznań.
The original project provided for transforming a disused smokestack of a former paper mill located at the junction of Estkowskiego Street and Szyperska Street in downtown Poznań.
The smokestack stands in the middle of a block of chaotic development that has a ‘Middle Eastern’ feel about it, on precisely the same viewing axis as the Poznań cathedral on the Ostrów Tumski island. An Interactive Centre of the History of Ostrów Tumski is to be launched here by 2010, its aim to promote the place as the cradle of Polish statehood and Christianity in Poland. The line then leads towards Małe Garbary Street and Stawna Street by the Old Market Square, where stands the former synagogue, converted in 1940 into a swimming pool for Wehrmacht soldiers and retaining the function ever since.
The Minaret’s architectural form was to be based on the minaret of the Great Mosque of Jenin in the West Bank of the Jordan River, one of the earliest masterpieces of Ottoman architectures in the Palestine. Just like the palm tree in Warsaw (Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue), so the Minaret was to become a permanent feature of the city’s landscape, lending the site an illusive, surreal and exotic feel.
It is 2011, the third edition of the Malta Festival, where the Minaret project is presented and discussed. As in 2009 and 2010, there was determination in us and faith in the project’s eventual success. In discussion panels accompanying the Festival in those years, we successively announced plans for the following: - constructing a stone minaret (in 2009 we naively believed, reassured by support from Poznań Vice-president Maciej Frankiewicz, that the minaret would be constructed next year); - inaugurating a temporary light installation in the shape of the Minaret’s outline (in 2010 we were already aware of the city’s negative position on a permanent Minaret installation, but we still didn’t know enough to doubt the possibility of creating a short-term visual intervention); - implementing in Poznań’s high schools an educational programme on multiculturality, inspired by the Minaret project (only a year ago we believed the sincerity of Vice-president Sławomir Hinc’s pledges, so we assumed the pilot stage of the programme would kick off as early as in January 2011).
None of these plans and pledges have come true. The Minaret, whether permanent or temporary, was blocked on the political and administrative levels by the city authorities. The Education Department did not find the readiness to finance and implement the planned educational programme.
Although the Minaret itself has not materialised, the very idea proved powerful enough to trigger off an intense public debate. Emotions were voiced both by the city inhabitants, including the Muslim community, and by the authorities, as well as by the wider public and the nationwide media. The resulting divisions went across existing demarcation lines in various communities, as the Minaret debate put the spotlight on a series of crucial issues – not only that of the desired shape of the city or the identity of Poznań and its people, but also that of the Polish and European attitude towards Islam – that have never been raised so emphatically in the Polish public space before.