Artwork tribute funded by international rock stars unveiled at Václav Havel Airport

Photo: CTK

A tapestry dedicated to the late Czech president Václav Havel and financed by some of the world’s biggest rock stars was unveiled on Sunday at Prague’s recently renamed Václav Havel Airport. The massive artwork is based on a tribute to Mr. Havel by the Czech-born illustrator Peter Sís, while its creation was overseen by Amnesty International.

Photo: CTK
A tapestry in tribute to the late Czech president and human rights campaigner Václav Havel was unveiled at Terminal 2 of Prague’s Václav Havel Airport on Sunday afternoon. Members of U2 and other rock stars paid for master weavers in France’s Aubusson to create the beautiful artwork measuring nearly five metres squared. It was unveiled on the eve of Human Rights Day, with strong involvement from Amnesty International – something the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, believes would have pleased his friend.

“Václav Havel would have been glad about it. Of course, he would have been even happier if he had heard that this wonderful gift in his memory was financed by co-artists – people of the same thinking and talent like him. I know how glad he was to meet any artist, be it from abroad or from the Czech Republic, who came to Prague and visited him. That was his life. They were his people.”

Václav Havel,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The unusual tribute was the brainchild of Bill Shipsey of Amnesty International’s Art for Amnesty. He had been taken by an illustration that artist Peter Sís produced for a Czech newspaper on the day of Havel’s state funeral last December. When it became clear that the Czech authorities would rename Prague Airport after the former political prisoner, Shipsey had the idea of having Sís’s design turned into a tapestry. To fund the project he contacted a number of musicians who are high profile supporters of Amnesty.

“All five of them wrote back and said they would be glad to support it. Bono and Edge had hosted Václav in their studio. The first night he arrived in Dublin, we sat drinking Guinness late into the night and Bono and Edge played some of the songs from their new album for him and he was a very happy man; we were all happy that night. And Peter Gabriel, Sting and Yoko Ono I know regard and regarded him very highly.”

The artwork features a flock of white birds – one of which bears a love-heart similar to one Havel regularly drew beneath his autograph – in the shape of a man, against the backdrop of Prague Castle. Peter Sís explains the image’s significance – and what the late president meant to him.

Petr Sís,  photo: CTK
“You look at the sky, you see the flock of birds, you see somebody who can inspire you for one second, and then the birds fly in different directions and then the person is gone, like Václav Havel was gone… I grew up when he was active with Charter 77 and his Helsinki activities. At the same time, we thought we were into rock’n’roll and we thought we that were in opposition too. But only after all these years have I realised that we should have listened more, that he was amazingly brave and smart about what he was doing.”

Art for Amnesty’s Bill Shipsey says the huge artwork – set to remain at Václav Havel Airport for at least a decade – will hopefully give travellers pause for thought.

“What I want them to do is to look at it and to think about Václav Havel, and to think about what he meant to the Czech Republic and to Europe. I don’t think there is any one single person that did more for human rights in Europe over the last 50 years than Václav Havel.”