Havel, Ukraine, and sustainability – Paris street art exhibition highlights Czech EU Presidency

Street art exhibiton in Paris

A new street art exhibition has appeared on a wall outside the Czech embassy in Paris, celebrating the accession of the Czech Republic to the presidency of the EU Council.

Lenka Brázdilová  (Charlien) | Photo: Martin Balucha,  Czech Radio

The exhibition, titled “Freedom and Energy”, certainly lives up to its name.

“There are symbols of freedom and energy everywhere, for example angels and wings with images of the sun. I would be really happy if our presidency kick-started and gave energy to the European Union and to us all,” says Pavel Šťastný, the exhibition’s curator.

The first post-Communist Czech president, Václav Havel, seen throughout the world as a symbol of the fight for freedom and democracy, features heavily. The motto of the current Czech Presidency is an excerpt from Havel’s 1996 speech in Aachen, in which he spoke of “Europe as a task”. One of the prominent images is a bold portrait of Havel smiling with a telephone to his ear, painted by young Czech artist Lenka Brázdilová, known under the pseudonym Charlien.

“The phone is a key element, because I believe that art like this is a conversation. I can’t say that it was purely me who created this exhibition – it was a team effort.”

War in Ukraine | Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka,  ČTK/AP Photo

With the current war in Ukraine, the former Soviet country has similarly become a symbol of the fight for freedom, and in line with this, the Ukrainian national emblem is painted on one of the exhibition’s panels. Charlien tells the story of how it came to be there.

“An amazing woman from Ukraine, who is an artist herself and has been in Paris for four months because her family in Ukraine were killed, came up to me and asked if she could paint the Ukrainian emblem representing freedom on the wall.”

Pavel Šťastný  (standing 3rd from left) | Photo: Martin Balucha,  Czech Radio

Another of the exhibition’s key themes is sustainability, also an important topic for the EU presidency. Even the 50-metre-long gallery wall itself is made from PackWall boards, a Czech product made from recycled drinks cartons.

“We have lightbulbs and green everywhere as symbols of the environment, and the exhibition itself finishes in a park,” says curator Pavel Šťastný.

A light installation, consisting of about 3.5 thousand individual LED lights, forms part of the exhibition, turning on after dark. Anna Veselá, who worked on the installation along with Matěj Suchánek, says they developed their own communication protocol for controlling the lights.

Anna Veselá | Photo:  archive of Anna Veselá

“The installation is unique in that it takes a completely different approach to lighting control, moving from a centralised to a decentralised approach, which allows us to create much more high-quality, fluid animations with lower infrastructure costs.”

For street artist Charlien, creating the exhibition was a pleasure, and she hopes to pass on that joy to others when they see it.

“I made it out of joy, and I know that the joy which was inside me when I made it will also reach every person who passes by. And that, for me, is the key thing – to pass on that joy and passion for art.”

Photo:  Czech Foreign Ministry

And it seems to have worked – as attested by at least one passer-by, Philippe:

“I like the street art exhibition. It’s original and you can’t see anything else like it in Paris.”

Authors: Anna Fodor , Martin Balucha
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