Over the course of six weeks from 17 November 1989, the Velvet Revolution brought to an end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. The protests were led by dissident playwright, Václav Havel, bringing the arts to the forefront of the revolution. Since the Czechoslovak coup d’état of 1948, artists in the country had been forced to submit to the restrictions of Soviet Socialist Realism. Dissent grew in the 1980s with the formation of underground artists groups such as Tvrdohlavi (The Stubborn Ones). Czech artists including Jirí David, František Skála, Petr Nikl and Jaroslav Róna were unified not by an artistic style but rather by a desire to free art from the demands to conform. Tvrdohlavi disbanded in 1991 as its members embraced their new-found freedom to develop distinct artistic voices.
Jirí David’s first post-revolutionary work was a series of more than one hundred photographs, produced between 1991 and 1995 across the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Austria, France and the USA. Entitled Skryté podoby (Hidden Image), these portraits employed an early 20th-century photographic method by mirroring each side of the face to produce two portraits: one right-sided and one left-sided. This double-portrait discombobulates by appearing to show two different personalities living in a single person.
The series reflected Czechoslovakia’s struggle to reclaim its national identity after the trauma of dictatorship, as well as the personal experiences of the artist who stated: ‘I don’t know what I am; I don’t know what I mean … I am my own foreigner … I lost all coherent identity.’
Image: Jiří David, Václav Havel and Marilyn Monroe from the series Skryté podoby (Hidden Image), 1991–1995 © Jiří David. Courtesy of the artist.