“It’s not typical of Peter Sís”: New exhibition opens at New York Czech Center

A new exhibition of work by the famous children’s author and illustrator Peter Sís opened this week at the Czech Center in New York. Entitled The Wall, How I Grew Up Behind the Iron Curtain, the show helps confirm a return to relative normality at the Czech Center, which like others around the world was closed by Covid. I spoke to its director, Miroslav Konvalina.

“This is a documentary exhibition. It’s not typical of Peter Sís as we know him as an artist and illustrator.

“It combines Communist red notice boards and drawings from his award-winning book The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.

“The exhibition features a series of original illustrations which last week we brought from Peter’s studio in Irvington, New York, where has been living for the last 20 years.

“The idea to use replicas and red street notice boards came from a close friend of Peter Sís, Joachim Dvořák, from the Labyrnt publishing house.

“And that part of the exhibition was sent by the Czech Centres to travel all around the world.

Peter Sís | Photo: Kateřina Dvořáková Manková,  Czech Center New York

“The final stop was the Czech and Slovak Museum at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where we picked it up during the Covid pandemic.”

There was a Peter Sís exhibition here in Prague at DOX a couple of years ago and it was a huge hit. Are you hoping for something similar at the Czech Center in New York?

“We discussed this with Peter Sís before the opening, and also with our publicist in New York.

“Peter Sís is well-established in New York.

“I saw it when this year in January he published his latest book Nicky and Vera, the story of how Sir Nicholas Winton saved so many children by putting them on trains from Prague.

“The exhibition opening was sold-out and people did turn up, so we are cautiously optimistic.

“But while in Prague at DOX it was 100,000 [visitors], we think that by Thanksgiving we can expect a couple of thousand in New York.”

Like I guess all of the Czech Centres, the one in New York had to close for some time because of the Covid situation. How are things looking now in terms of what I might call “real world” events actually attended by people?

Photo: Kateřina Dvořáková Manková,  Czech Center New York

“The situation in New York has been much clearer in recent weeks, after the CDC, the City of New York and the management of the Bohemian National Hall set clear rules for us.

“They are similar for Carnegie Hall, baseball stadiums, restaurants and European culture centres.

“So all staff, performers and audience members have to provide proof of vaccination with ID before they enter a venue for a programme.

“That has helped a lot, because our audiences are willing to come back.

“Masks are strongly recommended and we are not open to full capacity.

“But Covid cases are growing in many parts of the US.

“During the Labor Day weekend people were travelling a lot and flying like before Covid – and now we are waiting to see what will happen.”