Thursday, December 18, 2008

Untitled, Unlabeled

Sabina was a painter. It so happens that she lived in communist Czech republic. The fact that we are born in a place is an accident. We could easily be born somewhere else. Of course, being born somewhere carries some heaviness with it: the places and people you grow accustomed to, the social rules of interaction you come to know, the food your taste buds come to enjoy, all mark you. But they don't define you. It's what you make out of everything around you that comes to define you. And that's the trick most people fail to grasp. It is so much easier to simply stamp people with your ignorant stereotype of what they - a woman, a Czech, an Asian - allegedly should be like, then to take on the burden of paying attention to the individual.

When the Soviet troops invaded Prague, Sabina left for the West. But in the eyes of many Westerners, she was defined by her upbringing in a communist Czech environment. Sabina was first and foremost an oddity, an Other from another country and political regime. When her first exhibition opened in Germany, everyone assumed it was about living under communism. When she protested that, she wasn't heard:

"Do you mean that modern art isn't persecuted under Communism?
'My enemy is kitsch, not Communism!' she replied infuriated.
From that time on, she began to insert mystifications in her biography, and by the time she got to America, she even managed to hide the fact that she was Czech. It was all merely a desparate attempt to escape the kitsch that people wanted to make of her life"

(Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being. 1984/ 2008, First Olive Edition, p. 275)

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