Kuba Bąkowski, Daya Cahen, Nemes Csaba, Nikita Kadan, Tomasz Kulka, Goschka Macuga, David Maljković, Kristina Norman, Krzysztof Pijarski, Karol Radziszewski, Tomáš Rafa, Ran Slavin, Martina Slováková, Société Réaliste, Gökce Suvari, Paweł Szypulski, Mark Ther, Slaven Tolj.
The exhibition Kalashnikov is the fruit of several years of collaboration between the member countries of the Visegrád Group on the project Private Nationalism, which takes on board not only the key political events of European history in the 19th and 20th centuries but also the very process of the assimilation of the nationalist symbols and systems that permeate daily existence. The works of the invited artists represent a gamut of attitudes towards cultural chauvinism, nationalism and social exclusion based on ethnicity, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender or class.
The starting point for the creation of the narrative was the premise that most of the planet has been divided up into areas that individual national groups identify with. Within their borders, these cultivate and support myths that they have themselves created, their goal – to maintain the apparent cohesion, thus guaranteeing at least a basic sense of security for their respective communities. Although this outdated notion of insular nation states, outdated in today’s reality, has taken a severe knock from the impact of the globalist tendencies of today’s capitalism, also apparent in postmodern culture, nationalism has once again been raising its ugly head in many corners of the world.
Although the concept of a prevailing national identity had only come into being relatively late, it soon gained the status of a time-sanctioned construct, often anachronistically explaining the mechanics of how particular nations had come into being. Such a forging and pigeon-holing of the representation of a nation tends to serve specific political interests and is manipulated ideologically, reinforcing any existing power struggle; the general desire for a sense of security is harnessed to that end, with exhortations to such ultimate sacrifices as laying down one’s life on the altar of national identity. Nationalism manifests itself in language and the visual sphere and through institutions that maintain the preconceived mythology, as well as being reinforced via the mass media that work towards constructing concepts shared in the community. A nation state is, thus, a political apparatus based on a policy of symbolic representation, supported by convictions about such a system being a natural social formation, evolved through recurrent evocation of the origin of the nation and references to its continuity.
In fact, the very process of crystallising the national identity implies the concept, and helps to arrive at the definition, of the Other. Nationalism is a perfect ideological tool that, aided by the power of tradition, chauvinism and racism, promotes notions of the superiority, greatness and ‘chosen’ status of a particular group or nationality while simultaneously emphasising pejorative traits that are intended to convey the inferior and subordinate status of the Other. To exist in the imaginary national community can be both a curse (I am not allowed to be different) and a blessing (We all feel safe).
The history of Central and Eastern Europe is an account of the clashing of groups with different identities, whether political, social, cultural or religious. Central European nationalism – which has a different form, with demons of its own in each country – has been built precisely on the exclusion of groups of Others, who might stand in the way of fulfilling national interests. In different countries, the dominant nationalist formations target different entities: Jews, Roma and minority groups, whether religious, ethnic or based on sexual orientation. In the course of 20th century European history, the nationalistic drive resulted in two world wars, pogroms and expulsions. There are thus very good reasons to find alarming the current progressive regeneration of similar movements in this part of Europe, most prominently in Hungary, Slovakia and Russia.
The provoking of modern-day nationalism relies on a fascination with group power, with virile potency – patriarchal-style domination – and in offering oneself to the service of one’s nation. Significantly, Central European nationalism is firmly rooted in military tradition, stemming from the track record of nationalist uprisings and freedom fighting. Since the 15th-century Hussite rising in Bohemia and Moravia, through the Kosciuszko insurrection and the November and January risings in Poland, the Hungarian 1848 rising during the Spring of Nations to the Balkan wars of the early 20th century, the interest of the nation was identified with the pursuit of national freedom through armed combat. The rebel engaged in heroic military action became an archetype of nationalist, and in particular romantic, literature. Over the next few decades, militaristic symbols such as the stylised arm holding a sword permeated the imagery of nationalist movements.
This explains why the title of the present exhibition at Bunkier evokes a militaristic symbol, redolent of nationalism: the AK-47 assault rifle colloquially referred to, after its designer, as the Kalashnikov, to this day used both on the battlefield and by criminal gangs, is also one of the archetypal weapons evoked symbolically in popular culture. As far as nationalism is concerned, this is often the actual weapon of choice for leaders of nationalist movements; nationalist youth are taught how to use it in training camps organised by their political faction. As Goran Bregović sings, ‘Whoever has the Kalashnikov is the boss’.
The works presented at this exhibition of artists from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Holland, Poland, Hungary and Turkey depict nationalism using images of oppression and the exclusion of Others. The artists focus on the troubled history of Central and Eastern Europe, including the nationalist aspect of communism and the current rebirth of nationalist movements, while at the same time attempting to defuse their destructive potential. The question arises: have we all been taken for a nationalist ride, on a path of no return that we must pursue to the bitter end?
Lidia Krawczyk, Anna Lebensztejn
curators of the exhibition Kalashnikov
Approach Art Association
curators of the main project:
Apartman Project, Istanbul (TR), Divus, s.r.o., Praga (CZ), Kassak Centre for Intermedia Creativity, Nové Zámky (SK), MODEM, Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art, Debrecen (H), SPACE (SK), Ostrale, Dresden (D), Zsolnay Heritage Management Nonprofit Ltd., Pécs (H)
the project has been funded with support from
European Union Program Culture (2007-2013) and Visegrad Fund