Archive for November, 2009

Tribute to Dan Perjovschi

Last week traveling through Romania (hence the lull in writing), I had the good fortune of stumbling upon an exhibition by one of my favorite artists- Dan Perjovschi. The exhibition, entitled Chestii tripartite (Printed stuff), was held at The City Museum of Art, in Cluj-Napoca, a large university city in Transylvania. Dan Perjovschi was born in Sibiu, Romania in 1961 and currently lives and works in Bucharest. He transformed the medium of drawing, using it to create installation and performances. The drawings, simple in form, communicate volumes about global and local issues and present a political commentary in response to current events. Dan’s wife, Lia, is also an artist, mainly focusing on performance art and they often work together. Between the installations and the performances, viewers need to be in the right city at the right time to see the work. Dan has exhibited all around the world, including Portugal, Germany, the United States, Romania, Kosovo…etc.

Installation at MOMA (2007)

In the summer of 2007, I stood in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, transfixed by the drawings that took over the atrium walls. Everyone stood with heads tilted back, staring at the drawings stretching a few stories high. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Dan Perjovschi, and I was newly interested in East Europe at the time. Immediately I realized that there was something inherently different about his outlook on the world from the typical Western-centric perspective of which I am accustomed. The “political cartoons” touched on a diverse set of issues, including the US military, globalization, identity, fashion trends, global warming, and art politics. The collage of images provided an installation that transformed the usually sterile museum walls and the space as a whole, drawing the viewer into the artwork.

Judging from his cartoon-inspired drawings today, one might not guess that Dan was classically trained in fine arts in Romania. During the Ceausescu dictatorship, he was identified at a young age as possessing a special talent for art, and he began the state-run art school at the age of 10. However, Dan was quickly disillusioned with the restrictions of state art, and he did not feel that he could fully express himself with the medium of painting and the subject matter chosen for him. Drawing and performance later became his means for fully expressing himself in response to social and political issues. Censorship was very strict for artists in Romania under Ceausescu, and Dan states that “self-censorship ruled” as artists were forced to comply. Desperate for freedom of expression in the 1980s, Dan covered his whole apartment in white paper and drew all over, and he said it was as if he were “living in his own drawings.” One can notice the influence of this repressive time on the format of his later work. Dan’s installations, like the one in MOMA, takes on similar collage form, and the viewer is truly invited into the mind of the artist. Dan spent two weeks drawing on MOMA’s walls, and visitors to the museum could actually watch the artist at work.

Although I checked to see if the Perjovschis had any exhibit in Bucharest before embarking on my university trip, I did not think to check the museums in the city of Cluj-Napoca. I could not believe my luck when I walked by the city museum only a few hours before heading back to Krakow to discover that I was just in time to see a retrospective of Dan Perjovschi one hour before the museum closed. As the title suggests, the exhibition was a collection of Dan’s printed work- mostly books and catalogues of his site-specific sketches. Although I was somewhat disappointed that this exhibition did not include a new installation, the show provided an invaluable opportunity for me to review his work from the past decade. I could flip through books and compare the drawings he made in different places in different years. The information is hard to obtain in the United States and I felt completely overwhelmed to see evidence of so much work in one place by such a prolific artist.

If you ever have the opportunity to see some of Dan Perjovschi’s work in person, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Coming from a country that seems to be pretty cynical in general, Dan’s drawings are extremely insightful and witty. He provides a unique perspective on today’s world, and I think that the 2007 show in MOMA is a huge part of the reason I am studying East Europe today.

Download Dan’s Newspaper of Work from the 2007 MOMA Exhibition Here

Catholic Poland in Question

Portraits of Karol Wojtyla pop up everywhere in Poland, usually when I am least expecting to see him. When I shop for produce in the large open-air market, I see his face peering at me from small plaques on tables otherwise filled with kitchen and cleaning supplies. Bookshops prominently display books about the former pope in store windows to lure in customers. Of course likenesses of Pope John Paul II are included in most of the religious sites I visited in the past few months. Still, my favorite sighting was at the Niedzice Castle in the Polish Tatra Mountains. The photograph seemed out of place on the stone castle walls built in the 14th century, especially after a tour that included many anecdotes about the aristocratic owners’ odd sexual behavior, and I truly doubt the place has any connection to the former pope. In Poland this does not seem to matter.

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Courtyard of 14th Century Niedzica Castle


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PJP in the Castle

Obviously Poles are extremely proud of Pope John Paul II, and rightly so. In a country reported to be over 90% Catholic this comes as no surprise. Many businesses are closed on Sundays, and I see families walking to church wearing their Sunday finest. However, I wonder how many Poles who self-identify as Catholics are actual believers. In a country where the Church has such a large influence on politics and lifestyle, I would guess that many Poles claim to be Catholic just to be part of a community. This past October, Krakow held a “Freethinkers March” where atheists and agnostics gathered in what the Krakow Post claims to be the first march of its kind not only in Poland, but in Europe as a whole. The group walked through the center of the city with surprisingly little counter-protest. The organizer of the protest Ewelina Podsiad explained to the reporter that there are no reliable statistics on how many nontheists actually live in Poland. “Ms. Podsiad explained that in Poland, ‘many people are afraid to admit that they are nonbelievers,’ and cited scores of letters she has received from those who ‘came out’ to their families or co-workers and were ostracized afterwards.” Funny the phrase “came out,” usually heard in the context of homosexuals identifying their sexual orientation to their family and friends, is used here to describe religion.

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Marchers in Krakow with a sign reading "Thank God I'm an Atheist"

The article continues to explain that although religion classes are not mandatory in Polish schools, families that opt out of these classes often face ridicule, especially in the villages. In hospitals, if a patient declines a visit from clergy, they could face discrimination by the hospital staff or other patients. Reading the article about the first “Freethinkers” demonstration in Poland, I wonder what the Catholic Church really means for Poles today. Surely there is more religious diversity than what appears in statistics. Also, I doubt surveys ask little more from participants than to check a box describing their religion and a box to explain their average church attendance. I would like to see a survey that asks people to define their beliefs further…are you a religious Catholic or a cultural Catholic? Do you go to church to pray or so that your fellow parish members note your attendance? Of course this issue is not unique, but interesting in a country claiming to be 90% Catholic, and in an EU member state with as much voting right as Poland. Maybe the freethinkers march will become an annual event with an even bigger participation next year.

Quotes from Krakowpost.com.

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