(JHE) — A Belarus-born artist who escaped to Poland from Ukraine has created a spectacular mural made from thousands of fragments of mirrors that extends across the outside of the wall of the Jewish cemetery in Kalisz. Titled “Source,” the work by Ruslan Kolmykov centers on a huge mandala, circling out from a Star of David. The mirror fragments reflect the surroundings and passersby, making the wall seem transparent.
“The main thing is that every person passing by can see the beauty of our world, the planet in the reflection of the wall,” Kolmykov told JHE.
Look[ing] into himself and [seeing] in the mirrors the best human qualities that will make this world more beautiful. At the same time, the gray gloomy wall was transformed, began to interact with the mirrors, dissolved…..my call is to appreciate life and strengthen peaceful good relations between people of different nationalities and religions. [C]ompassion, since the mission of man is to love and create!
Though born in Belarus, Kolmykov had lived in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv since 2006 and fled to Poland after the Russian invasion in February 2022. He was an artist in residence last summer at the MultiArt festival in Kalisz, under whose auspices he carried out projects in cooperation with other refugees from Ukraine in the town, including children.
The mirror mandala on the Jewish cemetery wall grew out of that. He began installing the glass shards on the wall in November.
“I liked the project very much and we got all the necessary conservation permits,” Hila Marcinkowska, chair of the Council of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, as well as the caretaker of the Kalisz cemetery, told a local news site. “The artist wants to connect three nations that used to live in Kalisz – Poles, Jews and Ukrainians.”
Funding for the mural project and for the Multi Art Festival came from the Pratt and Whitney aerospace company, which has a big plant in Kalisz.
Within the design, Kolmykov “hid” a scene of 12 human figures dancing around a fire. In a Facebook post he said the scene (and the number 12) held a powerful symbolism.
“12 men in my case around the fire, like 12 months in a famous fairy tale, gathering around something important that gives them warmth, energy, knowledge and unites them together!” he wrote. “Stick together and support each other my friends because together we are one!!”
The cemetery in question is the New Jewish Cemetery, founded around a century ago, when the historic Old Jewish Cemetery — which dated from the 13th century — had no more room. The Nazis destroyed the Old Cemetery during WW2, and many of its headstones were used for construction. It was taken over by the state after the war, and buildings were constructed on the site.
The New Jewish Cemetery and its pre-burial house survived the war “in relatively good shape” but fell into poor condition in the following decades. The cemetery had been the scene of mass executions during the war.
Documentation and restoration work began to take place in the 1980s, and as many as 2,000 historic matzevot were recovered from where the Nazis had used them to strengthen river banks. These are displayed on the inside of the cemetery walls, and the pre-burial house now hosts the House of Remembrance and Meetings, which includes an exhibition about Jewish history in Kalisz.