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Helena Czernek

Her two greatest passions are design and Judaism. A new generation artist (born in 1985), she deals with Jewish design, graphics, photography, calligraphy and woodcutting. As she says, when designing, she tries to focus on the place where she comes from and where she creates. She looks for connections between the past and the future, and her work is based on a creative interpretation of the existing symbolism.

H elena graduated in design from the Academy of Fine Arts in her hometown, Warsaw. For her set of furniture “Meeting”, she received an award from the industry magazine “2 + 3D” in the competition for the best diploma project of 2010 in Central and Eastern Europe. She also studied at the Bezalel School of Fine Arts and Artistic Crafts in Jerusalem and Hebrew at the University of Warsaw.

Varsovians know very well the pedestrian crossing at Emilii Plater Street, designed by Helena and inspired by the piano keyboard. The keyboard motif reminds us that Fryderyk Chopin was born and spent his youth in Warsaw. The passage was created on the occasion of the Chopin Year (2010), but was later recreated in several other European cities. The artist is also a co-author of the development aid project “Design For Bantayan” in the area destroyed in 2013 by typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.

Since 2013, residents of Warsaw in April have been wearing a yellow daffodil, designed by Helena. It was established for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but it quickly became a permanent symbol of the annual celebration of this event. It is distributed in tens of thousands of pieces to the inhabitants of the capital by volunteers from the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The stamps with the logo of this sad anniversary – also designed by Helena – were published by Poczta Polska in the form of a collector’s album with a circulation of 300,000 copies.

In pre-war Warsaw, there were about 30 companies that produced Judaica, but all of them disappeared during World War II. After 70 years, thanks to the initiative of Helena Czernek and the MI POLIN design studio (in Hebrew: “From Poland”) founded by Helena and Aleksander Prugar, the tradition of designing Judaica in Poland began to revive. The brand’s goal is to maintain and develop Polish-Jewish identity and continue the 1000-year history of Jewish culture in Poland through modern and functional design.

Since 2013, residents of Warsaw in April have been wearing a yellow daffodil, designed by Helena. It was established for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but it quickly became a permanent symbol of the annual celebration of this event. It is distributed in tens of thousands of pieces to the inhabitants of the capital by volunteers from the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

The first Jewish item designed by Helena was MENOKIJA, which is a candlestick combining a menorah, a shabbat candlestick and a Chanukiah. MENOKIJA is still very popular today, illuminating houses in Poland and abroad during Chanukah. Over time, other ritual items of the project appeared, including A SEDER PLATE inspired by matzah, BESAMINKA in its form resembling the shape of the Jerusalem Tower of David, a Shabbat candlestick WINGS which is also a sculpture in which the flames illuminate the aluminium form.

The designer is particularly interested in mezuzahs made, among others, of stabilised wood, amber with silver, crystal and even concrete. One of her projects, designed for the blind – TANGIBLE MEZUZAH, is in the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York. MI POLIN also conducts researches on post-Jewish traces in pre-war buildings all over Poland as a part of the extensive project “MEZUZA FROM THIS HOUSE”. Thanks to the bronze casts of mezuzahs, it is possible to create new ones, giving a second life to those that no longer exist. “These casts metaphorically give continuity to tradition and history. They connect us with the past and former inhabitants… ”. [culture.pl]

In addition to ritual items, several jewellery collections inspired by the Jewish tradition were created, incl. SEVEN DAYS OF CREATION (pendants representing various stages of the biblical creation of the world) or BIBLE GARDEN (pendants referring to plants essential in Judaism). In addition, as part of the MI POLIN studio, Helena creates artistic installations and actions in urban space, involving the local community. Such undertakings include, among others TREES OF LIGHT (the trees in one of the Krakow squares were decorated with mirror ornaments in the shape of symbols related to Chanukah and Christmas by the volunteers) or the KVITLECH BOX (a box for “sending” letters, being later brought to Jerusalem and placed in the slots of the Western Wall), realised as part of the Jewish Culture Festival (FKŻ) in Krakow.

MI POLIN also conducts researches on post-Jewish traces in pre-war buildings all over Poland as a part of the extensive project “MEZUZA FROM THIS HOUSE”. Thanks to the bronze casts of mezuzahs, it is possible to create new ones, giving a second life to those that no longer exist.

The artist conducts workshops for children and adults on design and Jewish culture, as part of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow and Holocaust Education Week in Toronto, or the publicly available online FERAJNA HELENY workshops. Her projects are exhibited in many museums around the world, including in New York, Vienna, Toronto, at the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. Her works have been shown at important exhibitions on Polish design, including “On the other side of things. Polish design after 89″ in the National Museum in Krakow, “Design is everywhere. 40 years of the Faculty of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw”, “POLSKA IN BETWEEN”, “2. Istanbul Design Biennial” in Turkey, “Roots” at Galeria Bielska BWA.

From April 2019, Helena has also been working in the MI POLIN (from Poland) foundation, which promotes educational initiatives and social campaigns. One of the most important undertakings of the foundation is the MEZUZA FESTIVAL. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation launched an international social campaign “ONE FOR ALL”. It is supposed to counteract the weakening of social relations, help restore trust and promote effective solutions in the fight against the virus. Helena designed a badge in the shape of a shield consisting of three hearts, symbolising compliance with epidemic rules, community solidarity, hope and unity. Wearing of the pin is meant to be a sign of the collective effort put by each individual on behalf of the public.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation launched an international social campaign “ONE FOR ALL”. It is supposed to counteract the weakening of social relations, help restore trust and promote effective solutions in the fight against the virus. Helena designed a badge in the shape of a shield consisting of three hearts, symbolising compliance with epidemic rules, community solidarity, hope and unity. Wearing of the pin is meant to be a sign of the collective effort put by each individual on behalf of the public.

In recent years, Helena Czernek has broadened her field of interest to art, exploring the techniques of traditional Japanese woodcut and the secrets of Hebrew calligraphy. The combination of these two techniques resulted in a completely innovative series of biblical woodcuts with the use of calligraphic elements, shown at exhibitions in Krakow, Warsaw and Bielsko-Biała. The combination of various techniques, characteristic for Helena, was also expressed in this matter – the aforementioned SEDERAL PLATE contains elements of her own Hebrew woodcut design. Helena’s calligraphic development could also be observed during the performances from the SILENT WRITING series (artists calligraph live, in silence and the whole artistic process can be watched closely by a silent audience), organised by the famous calligrapher Brody Neuenschwander.

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