Cudlín exhibition part of freedom celebrations in Chicago

Václav Havel, photo: Karel Cudlín

Celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution are taking place not only in the Czech Republic but also among Czech and Slovak communities abroad. The Czech consulate in Chicago has prepared several events highlighting the 30 years of freedom, including a showcase of photos by the award-winning photographer Karel Cudlín.

Václav Havel,  photo: Karel Cudlín
The city of Chicago has perhaps the strongest Czech connection outside the Czech Republic and the city’s Czech Consulate has already organised several events to mark the Velvet Revolution, including a performance of the theatre play Audience by Václav Havel and a concert by the legendary Czech band Garage and Tony Ducháček.

Another event to take place is a showcase of photos by the renowned Czech photographer Karel Cudlín, who documented the heady days of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, but also the events leading up to the fall of Communism and the first years of freedom and democracy.

Starting this Sunday, Mr Cudlín will meet with Czech expats in Minneapolis St Paul and in Chicago to show some of his photos and talk about the stories behind them.

“I selected around 120 photos for the presentation. Luckily, in those days, we took pictures on film, so I was selecting from hundreds and not from thousands of photos.

Karel Cudlín,  photo: archive of Czech Radio
“So I will present photos from the year 1989, but also pictures showing what preceded the Velvet Revolution, and what followed after 1989 –such as the first free presidential elections, the election of Vaclav Havel Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist president, and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country.”

In the 1990s, Mr Cudlín became one of the official photographers of the late president Václav Havel and shot many iconic pictures of him.

“He was an introvert and he was a very decent man, so he didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight as did some other politicians, who had been trained for it from an early age. So it wasn’t always so easy to photograph him, but it was a fantastic experience.”

Mr Cudlín met Václav Havel at the first demonstration ever permitted by Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime on Škroupovo náměstí in Prague’s Žižkov district in December 1988.

“This is when I saw our future president Václav Havel live for the first time. The atmosphere was full of fear, because although the event was permitted, we were still worried the police might intervene. But the atmosphere was fantastic.”

Photo: Karel Cudlín
Karel Cudlín’s visit to the United States will culminate next Wednesday with a commemorative event at the Union League Club of Chicago, which has acquired one of his photos, depicting the East German exodus via the Czech capital in early autumn 1989:

“This photo is tied not only to Czechoslovakia, but to the whole Central and Eastern Europe. It was taken in front of the West-German Embassy in Prague’s Malá Strana and pictures a child being handed over the wall. It could be called Escape to Freedom.”

The event, co-hosted by the Czech consulate in Chicago, will celebrate the club’s new art acquisition and mark 30 years of freedom and democracy in the Czech Republic.