Emil Orlik exhibition, Open Arms festival

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In this week's Arts, Dita Asiedu visits an exhibition of portraits drawn and painted by Jewish artist Emil Orlik featuring personalities such as Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and Albert Einstein. We also look at a festival organised by the National Theatre, introducing music and theatre companies of the Czech Republic's minorities...

Emil Orlik - Portraits of friends and contemporaries

The Jewish Museum's Robert Guttman Gallery in Prague's Jewish Quarter is currently exhibiting portraits made by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century artist Emil Orlik. What makes the exhibition, which runs until April 11, unique is that the eighty pieces on show not only clearly portray Orlik's drive to constantly try new techniques but also feature his close friends - many of them renowned personalities ranging from physicist Albert Einstein to dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Even Czechoslovakia's first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk is part of the exhibition. Most of the pieces are from the Jewish Museum's very own collection; however, a smaller part featuring Orlik's portraits of representatives of Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey) at the 1917 Peace Conference in Brest-Litovsk, was donated to the museum by Emil Orlik's niece Anita Bollag, who now lives in the United States. I stopped by the gallery and asked the exhibitions curator, Dr. Arnost Parik to tell us who Emil Orlik was:

"He was born just across the street from the museum and his father had a tailor shop here, which was inherited by his brother and became one of the most known tailor shop in Prague in the 1920s and 30s."

How did Emil Orlik start making portraits?

"He started already in school. As a child he drew with everything on everything in the school. After he finished secondary school he decided to become an artist. When he was eighteen, he left Prague for Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. He then came back and was always in touch with the circles of the Vienna secession and moved to Berlin later on where he also joined the Berlin secession and some other groups of artists."

The most dominant exhibit here - it's the biggest and one of the few in colour - features Albert Einstein...

"I'm not sure whether he was a close friend but they knew each other very well and Emil Orlik drew three portraits of him; in Berlin and in Princeton USA. When Emil Orlik died in September 1932, Einstein was in Berlin and attended his funeral."

What kind of a person was Emil Orlik?

"He was very active and probably nervous or even a little hyper-active. He was always drawing and experimenting with various techniques like woodcuts, lithographs, different kinds of etching, and new techniques. He wanted to make large woodcuts with many colours, which was very difficult. At the same time when he was a painter, he also worked for the theatre. The theatre was his other 'love' ever since his early days. He also met Max Reinhardt in Prague and took part in the cabaret in Prague, Berlin, and Vienna. Later on, he started with stage and costume design in the German theatre of Max Reinhardt, which was a kind of experimental modern scene with very good actors."

Please tell us what we can see here at the exhibition. I can see that Hendrik Ibsen is in front of us?

"Orlik met Ibsen in 1891 - Ibsen was very famous and fashionable in theatres. This piece was made just for a programme. This portrait in woodcut was made in Vienna in 1902. There's also a portrait of Josef Hoffman, who was his friend and of the same age and the most famous Viennese architect after Otto Wagner. Emil Orlik also visited Paris on several occasions and drew portraits of people like the Jewish impressionist Pissarrot, who was a father to impressionists because he took care of many members of the movement in France. He also drew Jules Pascin who he met in Munich and later in Paris, who was the famous painter of the School of Paris and Rudolf Grossmann. In Berlin there was the famous sculptor Ernst Barlach, Otto Muller, the painter of 'Die Brucke'... his friends. Some people say that he liked to make portraits of famous people because it makes him more famous and more attractive. But this is not true, I'm sure of it, because he knew all those people personally; not only the visual artists but poets, dramatists, writers, musicians, and later actors."

National Theatre launches "Open Arms" festival featuring minorities

From March 22-25, the National Theatre holds the first part of a long-term project called "Open Arms" in which song, dance, and theatre groups of various minorities in the Czech Republic are presented to audiences in Prague's biggest and best theatres. Daniel Dvorak is the Director of the National Theatre:

"The National Theatre needs to expand its activities. Besides the classic or standard theatre productions, it should also look to some other cultural scenes, especially those involving minorities in the broadest sense of the word, who have not been given much attention from our theatre so far. Our goal is not to stress the differences but to find what we have in common and what we can inspire each other with. That would create the mix that represents society - people are never the same. We have a number of great groups at the festival who have been active for many years, often longer than ten years, and it is a shame that we were never before able to find a common platform where they could see our performances and we could see theirs and, as I said, inspire each other."

On Monday, a pantomime performance of a theatre ensemble of the blind will be on show at the National Theatre. The Bohnice Theatre Company, with most members being patients at the Bohnice psychiatric hospital, can be seen at the same venue on Tuesday. Vendula Kodetova is responsible for the theatre group's repertoire:

"The Bohnice Theatre Company was established in 1991, so we are currently celebrating our thirteenth year. The company consists of psychiatric patients who play, perform, and create together with theatre professionals and children. At the beginning, the company had between ten and fifteen members and the number is still the same. Of course, some keep on coming and going because of some psychological problems or so but we've had around fifteen members since our foundation."

What will visitors be able to see during the festival?

"The company presents a performance called Vera a Marie Tanci, or Vera and Marie are Dancing, and we worked together for one year. It's a kaleidoscopic world of our passions, dreams, and experiences. Theatrical work has a lot of therapeutic elements and I can say that after a few years most of our members who are patients need less and less psychiatric care."

On Wednesday, the Polish Krakow Klezmer Band holds a concert in Prague's Estate's Theatre and finally at the same place on Thursday, the Roma band Vera Bila and Kale which already enjoy fame in the country rock the house.