Poland through the eyes of artist Tomasz Koclega and his 'Inner balance' with his works

VK Cherian

Tomasz Koclega | Photo credit: Gallery 1000A

Tomasz Koclega, the 54 year old sculptor and a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland came to India in 2015, to help trace the missing friend and professor’s son. The 24 year old Bruno Muschalik, went missing during a trek in Parvati valley of Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh. Bruno was a successful young professional who worked with Ernest and Young the global consulting firm in Poland and had been lured by the Himalayas for a lonely trek into the wild. Like one of the characters in a Krystof Zanussi film, he went to trek in the deep Himalayan valleys, little knowing that some of them are deep valleys of drugs and death. Since his friend and father of the missing young man Piotr Muschalik, 57, professor of photography at University of Katowice, knew only Polish and German languages, the English knowing Tomaz decided to help out his friend’s manhunt for his son in India.

He has made several visits to India, since then and last being for the exhibition at the Gallery 1000A in Delhi in January this year. “I came to India for the first time ever in 2015. It was neither a tourist nor business trip. I came here to help my friend, whose son was missing. It was an urgent and unexpected trip. I had no idea what I may face there... In these difficult times I met so many friendly and open hearted people... After this kind of experience it is impossible to forget about India...”, Tomasz recalled his eight year old affair with India. Though he has not been able to trace his friend's son Bruno so far, he returns to the country he has come to like as an artist, without losing hope that one day Bruno will surface from nowhere.

“Moments of Solitude” a sculpture show of Tomasz in Delhi brought a fresh air of work of sculpture, where he ignores the heads of the human figures made in metal and in miniature and goes for inner balance of his sculpt works. Though he describes the Delhi exhibition as a miniature show, he displays videos of his huge public art works across the world, including one in a Delhi mall which is a multi ton bronze structure.

His website profiles him as a “1993 he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and works at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice. He also lectured at foreign universities in Finland, the USA and the Czech Republic.

He practices figurative sculpture. His achievements include many monumental sculptures; some of them are permanently installed in public spaces, on three continents. They are exhibited, among others, in Saint Louise (USA), New Delhi, Chandigarh (India), Vilnius (Lithuania), Zlin (Czech Republic) and Bytom, Rybnik, Katowice, Świętochłowice, Pabianice, Chełmek (Poland)

For several years, the artist has also been creating small and medium-sized bronze sculptures. They are characterised by the dynamics of composition, expression, and deformation. It all adds up to a characteristic, recognizable form, using a rich language of gestures”.

Spending a few hours at the Gallery 1000A of fellow Keralite Shaji Punchathu and taking him out for lunch at India International Centre and showcasing Delhi arts and discussion circuits of Mandi house was also a journey through Polish art and society, not just being friendly with the man. Tomasz grew up in the socialist Poland, but maintains Poland was always different as it was among few nations which had a written constitution and a free spirit in Europe from the 19th century. Even under socialist regime, Poland had a relatively free creative and social structure including provision for backpack travellers, which attracted people from other East European Socialist countries.” Though we were under the Soviet bloc, each of the countries had their own version of socialism and Poland’s version allowed us more freedom as a society”, the Polish sculptor recalled.

Tomasz Koclega with Shaji Punchathu

Tomasz is a product of post war Poland, grew up in Zabrze town, with a lot of German influence and with a pre war border with Germany, hearing war stories of his grandparents. His grandfather's from both sides were Polish soldiers defending the country in 1939 from Germans, but were captured and became prisoners of war. Both of them escaped their captivity as it was early period of world war II and luckily for him though there was a Nazi concentration camp in his area, none of his relatives had to go through that torture..” My grandma adopted a Jewish orphan girl during the war and she grew up with my mom's family. At that time such behaviour could lead to the execution of the whole family”. His early stories of the war were from his grandmother and war in Iraq was his first real time news and now in Ukraine. He sold a few of his works for mobilising funds for the refugees in solidarity with them. “I donated 3 sculptures to raise funds for refugees. The sculptures were sold at a high price... Kind of relief, that I did something.”

I asked him about his childhood in Poland in the 70s and he recollected,” Poland in the 70s was growing, for the people like my grandma it was much better life than before. So, as a child I had no idea what’s going on around me... It was Coca Cola, Western music and films... For kids it was all they needed... It was in the 70s….

But in the 80s it was completely different. The country went into a deep economic crisis... shortages of everything. Special coupons for most products, like for sugar, meat, even shoes...And the Martial Law... Sunday morning and I turned on our black and white TV...and instead of a morning programme for kids; he saw a Martial Jaruzelski speech.

“At that time, I knew very little about politics. I do remember TV coverage of signing the agreement between workers striking in Gdańsk. : My mum called me to the room, asked to sit and learn it. She said, look history is happening on our eyes...: Lech Wałęsa was signing the agreement with communist regime, to create independent trade union, well know later as Solidarność-Solidarity.: When I was teenager, and wanted to be an artist I started to understand everything better and better. I do remember the "lesson" of communism, waiting in very long queue, to buy the drawing paper...: After few hours, about 4-5, waiting in front of the shop, finally I was allowed to go in...and there were no more white paper...it was, but green one only...only one available.: I bought this green and painted every single sheet into white by paint...: Being adult, living in Poland, what I can say is that I m proud of my ancestors, pound of my family and I feel lucky to have a chance to work and develop myself without any limits…”

According to Tomasz, Poland is now completely a new country. Not only in matters of development, but also in social structure. All government schools are still free and all art academies are funded by the government, just as in socialist regimes, but private institutions are allowed to offer various courses for a fee. The country has been opened up for business from all over the world, but the old instructions minus its politics remain the same.” We used to have our evening parties in each other’s homes and now it is public places. We are increasingly becoming impersonal as a society”, he observes.

”Rapid economic growth, deep and painful economic reforms change the people. Is it better or worse now? I don't know what I can say, it is different. Personally, I like to travel and observe people. From outside, when you will look inside, into your place, where you live you will always find better and worse sides”, Tomasz recalled.

The work of Tomasz reveals a unique style of dynamism of the human figure in very many ways. “The subject of my work is human beings. I am interested in analysing human behaviour, attitudes, and emotions. Through my indirect, poetical forms I explore the fields of human sensitivity, desires, feelings, worries or energies that I am influenced by. I try to base my work on elusive, hardly definable feelings, emotions that we are all tossed between, hidden desires appearing in our dreams or in real life”.

And one is curious as to why Tomasz does give a head to most of his figures, but he always gives some attributes to the sculptures like “circles, balls, cubes, golden stones”.The attributes are always playing an important part in the composition and allows (helps) to understand my ideas. The head, the face indicate individuality, but in my works I'm talking about us, as human beings, as a human race - not about you or me… I'm trying to express my ideas and thoughts, which always comes from the observation of the people, through gestures…

“At the opposite pole of my artistic expression are human heads. These usually huge forms, although separated from the rest of the body, symbolise a man in his spiritual and intellectual life, in his reason, wisdom and, finally, in his human perfection’, Thomas explains. “In many works I touch the subject of balance, which is very important for me. Another subject, which you may find in my works, is the contrast between perfect shapes versus the human body. In big outdoor works, I used to focus on the relationship between us, the people and nature. So, I created the works hugging the trees, installed on trees or placed in a river. I feel myself as a part of nature, so the relation between people and nature, in an age of rapid changes of climate is important for me”.

His biggest, monumental work, casted in bronze, is sculpture „Inner Balance ''. The giant work is permanently placed in New Delhi, India. Created out of 6.5 tons of bronze, the sculpture stands in the foyer of a Noida-Delhi Mall.

Tomasz obviously is a deep humanist with left of centre ideas. He is concerned about the increasing influence of the Church on Poland’s society and politics and he decries it strongly. He says there is a kind of herd mentality in the media in Poland too, aligning themselves with conservative ideas. In all he places himself as a world citizen and goes about his work. He may be a product of the post war socialist era of Poland, but he is reaching out to the world through his international humanism through his work of art.

VK Cherian is a senior media person based in New Delhi and writes on arts, films and technology.

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