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Brooklyn Street Art

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Street Artist Olek Goes To Jail in Poland

Posted on January 18, 2014

Street Artist Olek went to jail this week. We’re pleased to report that she made quick friends and crocheted a 65 foot long wall hanging.

“Pocaluj Przyszlosc” (Kiss the Future) is inscribed in a handwritten style crochet font across the corridor banner that leads the inmates to the outside world, should they ever be granted freedom again. “Inmates also pass it when they first enter the cold confines of their brick environment, picking their mattresses and clothes from the jail’s stockroom,” she says as she describes the prison in Katowice, Poland that she visited for a few days this week.

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Olek. Katowice, Poland. January 2014. (photo © Olek)

An artist who relishes collaboration as much as the solo aspect of creation, Olek took this project into the prison as a way to share her work and to further examine freedom, a concept she has been giving much thought to over the last year.

Under house arrest herself in London as 2013 began, Olek’s own freedom was curtailed for a few months after a bar skirmish where a drunk fella, she quotes the judge as saying, “called her a whore, prostitute and slut.” The judge had recounted Olek’s reaction at her sentencing to home curfew the previous November, “she dumped the content of her glass over his head”.

Completing her sentence just a year ago, freedom has been on her mind ever since.

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Olek. Katowice, Poland. January 2014. (photo © Davido Wojtek)

“No one knows what freedoms means until it is taken away,” she says, “I started 2013 with one foot in and the other out,” she observes of the experience that frankly pushed her spirit to very low depths, “That was the moment I pulled myself from the bottom,” she says, “but not everyone has this kind of strength.”

As she moved into 2014 Olek marked her experiences with a street installation in Vancouver in a neighborhood that has largely been abandoned by city planners and where many people who have lost hope languish on the sidewalks, sometimes turning to prostitution or the drug trade to get their basic needs met, or to just get awy. On a grey cold rainsoaked December 31st a multicolored crocheted piece rose on the street with her message “kiss the future” in what she describes as a “5 block of hell in Vancouver.”

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Olek. Katowice, Poland. January 2014. (photo © Davido Wojtek)

Here in prison, she created the piece and translated the sentiment with the help of people who live there. “I taught the women how to crochet and the men installed the frame for my crocheted piece. It was truly a collaborative effort,” she says of the new work in this public prison.

“The beauty of public art is that it can speak, inspire and change anyone, even those not educated in art. Prison is definitely a public space. The inmates can’t come and see my art on the street, so I came to them with my colors and brightness.”

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Olek. Katowice, Poland. January 2014. (photo © Olek)

Another crochet banner that she installed the previous week on the street in New York’s Little Italy had recently been stolen. The still unsolved theft of that one, which also carried a message about freedom, was still a source of sadness and anger so here in jail Olek celebrated the fact that this installation was likely to be more secure.

“The best way to insure that your work won’t be stolen is to install it inside a prison, ” she says hopefully, although most people familiar with the penal system might amend that statement. But yes, the new collaborative piece will bring a dynamic and colorful element to an otherwise restricted body and mind space.

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Olek. Katowice, Poland. January 2014. (photo © Davido Wojtek)

 

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