In 2013, when the Polish government proposed to control flooding of the Bialka River in southern Poland by digging steeper banks and building concrete containment walls, Cecylia Malik decided that protesting and writing letters and petitions was boring.
“My friends and I prepared something crazy, funny, beautiful and nice,” said the artist, then 38. “We wanted to make the fight famous.”
During the decades when the country was part of the USSR, Poland focused so intensively on developing its industry that the natural world was often overlooked. For the sake of factories, trees were cut down, rivers were dammed, and soil, water, and air became choked with pollutants. Even now, the post-communist government tends to favor industry over ecology. However, a growing number of Polish environmentalists are trying to reclaim the rights of nature.
To create her activist art project, Cecylia Malik stationed herself in Krakow’s Bunkier Sztuki Gallery with multiple yards of fabric. Then she began inviting visitors to help her create her braid. When it was finished, the colorful, collaboratively woven braid unfurled over a total distance of four miles. Malik, along with scientists, other artists, environmentalists, and members of the public helped lay it along the banks of the Bialka.
Authorities scrapped plans to reconstruct the river.