The artists in this display lived in socialist Hungary, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and Poland. These countries were satellite states of the Soviet Union and, to varying degrees, functioned with repressive cultural and political systems. Brief periods of resistance or liberal reform took place in Warsaw and Prague in 1968 but were strongly suppressed, and these failed democratic uprisings resonated with these artists.
They had little chance to show work in official art institutions, no access to an art market and infrequent opportunities for international travel. Instead they formed their own networks and developed conceptual and performance-based practices which diverged from state-approved socialist art. Each took a different ‘unofficial’ position and adopted varying strategies in relation to the state control, censorship and surveillance which they all experienced to different extents.
Some devised objects to disrupt public institutions or celebrate popular resistance to state control. But many of the artists in this display did not consider their art to be ‘political’ as such. In place of direct confrontation and open dissent, their works were often extremely subtle interventions in public space, gesturing to alternative ways of living. Their temporary and understated form was both a conceptual choice, and helped artists evade censorship and arrest.
Curated by Juliet Bingham