Amelia Peel (Phoenix - 2023) and Ella Marshall (Fleur- 2023)
Prague: A Broader Perspective
At Hurst, Ella and I thoroughly enjoyed studying for A levels in Art, English Literature and Politics, and researching and representing the interests and concerns of diverse member states as Model United Nations delegates. These experiences gave us a keen interest in learning about the art and politics of people in particular places by exploring the historical forces shaping current culture. To this end, Ella and I planned to visit the UNESCO World Heritage city of Prague, spending time in the Old Town, Lesser Quarter, Jewish Quarter and New Town and focusing on historical and contemporary art in public places, as well as art exhibited in galleries.
A generous contribution from the OJ Travel Fund enabled us to begin our trip with a historical walking tour of the city of Prague, a boat ride down the Vltava River and a traditional Czech meal. These tours helped us get our bearings and gave us valuable insights into key locations and historical events, from which we were able to develop a more focused and personal itinerary.
We found the National Galleries and National Museum particularly helpful in developing our understanding of Czech culture. Visiting the National Galleries enabled us to discover the work of important Czech artists from the 18th century to the present, including Mucha, Hollar, Toyen, Kupka and Myslebek. These works were displayed alongside those of major European artists we had studied during our Art A level, such as Durer, Picasso, Klimt and Ruysch. This breadth of historical and artistic context made clear to us the dramatic impact of the imposed Soviet Communist Social Realism on Czech art between 1948 to 1989. Additionally, this presentation challenged our initially simple East vs West interpretations by encouraging consideration of the politics of artistic identity over time, as well as during the Communist period. We also appreciated the breadth of historical context offered by the National Museum. Its own architecture ranged from 19th century Neo-Renaissance to newly built (2018) and we were fascinated by the museum’s immersive, interactive reconstructions of the homes of different social classes between 1914 and 2004. These exhibits gave us a greater sense of the lived experience of people in Prague over time and the shifting and pervasive influences of capitalism and communism on the designs shaping everyday life.
Knowledge gained from our museum visits enabled us to engage in current debate about art in public spaces specific to Prague, including whether those celebrating Stalin’s political ideology should be replaced, like the monument in Letna Park, or retained as a feature of history, like the ‘Moskva Praha’ metro mural. In light of our study of dystopia in English Literature and of current authoritarian regimes as MUN delegates, we were particularly drawn to the debate about whether the graffiti of the ‘Lennon Wall’ should be left as a memorial to the political activists who stood against the Communist regime, or allowed to be contemporary art and a means for continued expression of political opposition to any repressive regimes.
Staying in a youth hostel and sharing a meal with our historical tour group gave us opportunities to meet and share diverse perspectives on Prague with people from across Czechia and the UK as well as from the USA, Iran, New Zealand, Türkiye and the Netherlands.
We are so grateful to the OJ Travel Fund which helped make our visit to Prague a hugely enjoyable, thought-provoking and memorable experience.
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