It would seem that the history of the Zaspa district of Gdansk is a story typical of large blocks of Polish cities built in the times of the previous era. Nothing could be more wrong. Zaspa today is the largest art gallery in the open air.
The great grey block walls became a canvas for muralists. Within a dozen or so years, one of the world’s largest mural collections was created here. We talk about unique art on the block of flats with Jarosław Orłowski, a local guide to the Collection of Monumental Paintings in Zaspa in Gdansk.
Pomorskie.travel: Zaspa. One of the largest blocks of flats in the Tri-City. Zaspa has always been colourful because it was full of greenery. Nevertheless, some time ago murals started to appear on the huge block of flats. Where did it come from?
Jarosław Orłowski: Although it may seem obvious today, Zaspa has not always been as colourful as it is today. Back in the 1990s, it was still an unfinished project with undeveloped spaces, uplifted investments and green fields. In such a lunar landscape, Rafał Roskowiński decided to intervene, a pioneer of muralism in Poland, organizing the festival for the millennium anniversary of Gdansk.
Pomorskie.travel: Which murals were first and why?
Jarosław Orłowski: The first murals were created in 1997 as part of the international Festival of Monumental Painting organized by Rafał Roskowiński. The festival was one of the events for the millennium of Gdansk. In this way, the first 10 murals by artists from Poland, the United States, Lithuania and Mexico were created, which is considered the world cradle of muralism.
The murals returned to Zaspa in 2008 as one of the projects as part of the city efforts to become European Capital of Culture. In 2009, the first edition of the Monumental Art Festival took place, thanks to which over the years 2009-2016 the collection was enriched by over 40 murals of artists from all over of the world.
Pomorskie.travel: Zaspa is a very important place on the historical map of Gdańsk and Poland. It’s here at Pilotów 17 Street were President Lech Wałęsa lived. Here in the park in 1987 Pope John Paul II celebrated the mass. Therefore, Lech Wałęsa and Pope JPII have their murals …
Jarosław Orłowski: In 1999, Rafał Roskowiński added one more work to the new collection, which is a fairly well-known mural from 303 Squadron Street presenting John Paul II and Lech Wałęsa. In the background of the mural, we can find a sketch of the papal altar from Zaspa, designed by the eminent Gdansk designer Marian Kołodziej.
During this mass, the walls of the top blocks were covered with huge religious banners. Seeing them, Rafał Roskowiński thought that the top walls of the blocks in Zaspa are like big canvases waiting only to be painted. The idea materialized 10 years later thanks to the festival for the millennium anniversary of Gdansk.
Pomorskie.travel: Which, in your opinion, wall paintings deserve special attention of visitors?
Jarosław Orłowski: If I had to choose one, it would probably be the work of artists from Uruguay: Licuado and Alfaalf. The mural in Zaspa is the largest realization in the history of Uruguayan muralism. It presents a rooster with a crest, which is supposed to bring associations with the coat of arms of Gdansk and a Polish girl helping a Uruguayan boy in realizing his dreams.
On the boy’s shirt, except the Uruguay’s flag, we can see the badges that depict a yerba mate drinking cup, the most popular South American brew, Palacio Salvio, the most recognizable Montevideo building, a paint roller and the artists themselves holding hands.
Pomorskie.travel: Well – the authors of the murals are both Poles and foreign artists. Which names are specific on this list and why?
Jarosław Orłowski: It is definitely worth paying attention to Mariusz Waras (m-city), the most famous Polish muralist in the world.
Among the artists in the collection we have a very good representation of Italy: 2501 and Ozmo are the leading figures of Italian street art. If I were to recommend my favourite artist, I would probably point Shaia Dahana from the United States.
Pomorskie.travel: Are the Zaspa “canvases” already full? Are there plans to create more paintings? Will those who are already be there forever or will they be repainted?
Jarosław Orłowski: There are still some walls left in Zaspa, however, the Monumental Art Collection from the beginning was a project planned to end in 2016. The year 2016 was the end of the dynamic development of the gallery, but the works will still appear in Zaspa, and some will disappear, because this is the inevitable fate of wall painting in the open air.
Pomorskie.travel: You can visit the Zaspa by the path of murals. Where is the best way to start and what route to take?
Jarosław Orłowski: Zaspa is best visited with the Local Guides. The first walk is already 27 April as part of the national Day of Free Art. I invite you for regular walks from June to September. All walks are free. Details on our pages. If you come alone, it is worth having our recent guide book. The guide book with the map can be obtained free of charge at the Institute of Urban Culture. The order of murals in the guide and on the map was chosen according to the optimal route of sightseeing. It is easiest to get to Zaspa Młyniec by SKM or tram. We recommend to start the tour from the tram stop of Jana Pawła II or the SKM Zaspa stop.