New exhibition Now and there – Milan Jaroš
From April 12 to June 4, 2023, Milan Jaroš’s exhibition TEĎ A TAM will be on display at our gallery 400 ASA in Smíchov.
Greengrocers in the heart of Europe
I like Czechia. As a child I wanted to be American because it was a free country and there are endless prairies, wild rivers, towering mountains and dense forests. But once I became interested in our history, and then criss-crossed the Czech Republic as a reporter, I liked our country better and didn’t want to live anywhere else.
This is not at all an empty sentiment or an expression of idealism. A journalist who isn’t blind and deaf cannot idealize any society. It was our imperfection that fascinated me, an imperfection which at the same time meets the desire to be something more. Smallness is constantly struggling with greatness. And I find the struggle for our character to be adventurous in a way.
In 1918, our ancestors believed that the end of history had come. Although Francis Fukuyama did not write this formulation until 1992, the Czechs had accepted it long before then. They thought that they would create their own little garden in the middle of Europe and if they didn’t care about the rest of the world, the world wouldn’t care about them. Wrong. 1938. Wrong. 1948. Wrong. 1968. Even today, various manipulators play on this isolationist sentiment: leave Ukraine to its fate and all will be better. Leave the EU and NATO and there will be eternal peace.
The term “garden” is not used casually. The Czechs first lost the wild Subcarpathian Russia after World War II, and then Slovakia in 1993, with its areas of uniquely untamed nature. Czech landscape, on the contrary, seems to have adapted to the desire for tranquillity. As soon as a wild animal appears, a debate starts: are they allowed to be here? In Slovakia they warn about the threat of bears, in the Czech Republic we warn about ticks. If there is a society anywhere in the world which is imprinted on nature, it’s here.
Politically and landscape-wise, we are struggling with the claim of Tomas G. Masaryk that “little” Czechs should be big, because only then will the world care about their fate and not let them fall with the feeling that smallness is our strongest weapon. We will outlive anyone with our indifference. But there is another option that can combine both, which is to acknowledge our smallness in history, so that we don’t forget the need to cultivate good partnerships with allies, and to accept our greatness, so that we help people or societies in need in order to make the world a better place to live. Just as we are doing now in helping Ukraine and its refugees.
In order to make decisions, we must first understand each other. And that isn’t easy, paradoxically because we live in an era of opinions. Social networks have given us the impression that we can and, more importantly, should express ourselves on everything that passes by. Climate change, pandemics, globalisation… The more complex the topic, the clearer the opinion.
That’s why we need guides to help us seek understanding. Among them are also photographers. Because the best ones have the ability to perceive. Everyone can see, but perceiving people, space, smells, rhythm, shades… is art of its own merit. That also includes the need to understand (not to be confused with approval) people.
No one wants to appear as a caricature.
We desire to be unique in our being. A large number of problems start with people feeling that they are invisible and inaudible. And when they do get noticed, it’s only to have a label put on their forehead. Sometimes the world can’t be described without a certain degree of generalization. We sometimes are, or even long to be, part of a crowd, a group or – in modern terms – a bubble, we also want to feel our unique imprint.
When I look at Milan Jaroš’s photographs, I see Czechia as I know it. There is kindness, irony, recklessness, poor taste, beauty, smallness and mystery. I feel the same love from him that I feel myself, because only such a strong relationship allows for critical perception. A perception free of ridicule. When Václav Havel was looking for an illustrative example for The Power of the Powerless, he chose the now legendary greengrocer. Not some heroic profession
or social figure, but a simple greengrocer.
The chosen profession alone is a brilliant metaphor.
In Talks with TGM, Masaryk says that “we need fifty years of undisturbed development, and then we’ll be where we’d like to be today”. Will we be the first generation to get to those fifty years? What will we tell ourselves about the Czechs in 2039? And also, where do we want to be?
Editor-in-chief of Respekt magazine