Curated by Tomasz Kosiński
Welcome to Poland, the homeland of Pope John Paul II and his cult following. When you arrive here you’ll maybe land at the airport of John Paul II and at some point your journey will take you along John Paul II Avenue, passing by numerous schools and hospitals named after him on your way. While walking around the city you will definitley come across his monuments (there are about 1000 of them in Poland) and if you peep through windows of apartments, you will see his portrait in many of them.
‘The smallest Pope in the world’ project was prepared in Częstochowa, the holy city for Polish Catholics, and a mass pilgrimage destination. The name of the project was inspired by the appearance of a 14 meter high figure of Pope John Paul II, which was presented as an attraction in the amusement park of Częstochowa. This figure was widely advertised on billboards as ‘The biggest Pope in the world – Guinness World Record (probably)’. It is believed that before his death John Paul II, known for his modesty, said „Don’t build monuments for me. Do something good for people”.
I was looking for a language of discussion about this awkward form of the worship. But it had to be read in a way that would not immediately cause an aggressive response, because in Poland, if considered blasphemous, one could end up with a court trial and a jail. The image of the Pope, watching the world through his rolled up, binocular like palms, spoke to me. I visualised him saying ‚What the hell are you doing there?!’ This rather funny pose of the figure is well known from a popular photo, however it has never been used in the official, pope-related iconography.
I carved a small sculpture of John Paul II and I put it on the main street in Częstochoaw (Blessed Virgin Mary Avenue), in front of the monastery, being the heart of the Catholic faith in Poland. During the evening, I found flowers and lit candles in front of my little statue. It lasted a month until the work was destroyed by a careless cyclist.
The Smallest Pope in the World appeared again in 2014, as a protest against transferring a large part of resources from the budget of the Ministry of Culture to build an enormous catholic temple in Warsaw. This temple will house a museum dedicated to John Paul II. Subsidising religious organisations by the state, catholic church included, is formally forbidden in Poland. Donations for museums are not.