"Lost time?" - a trip through the years before the Velvet Revolution

Photo: Ivan Bogdan, 1978, Slovak National Gallery

The Slovak National Gallery is celebrating the 18th aniversary of the Velvet Revolution with a photo exhibition on life in communist Slovakia. Called „Lost Time?“ the exhibition displays documentary photography showing social life in Slovakia from the beginning of the so-called normalisation, following the failed attempt to reform the communist system in 1968, through to the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Anca Dragu reports.

The exhibition presents aspects of public and private rituals, sociological portraits, housing projects, pictures of the old world of Slovak villages and May 1st celebrations. I strolled through the exhibition with one of its curators, Petra Hanakova and started by asking her why did they choose a question as the title for the event.

"We realized that the period between the late 60s and 1989 needs to be explored deeper. We think that people in our generation have started to have a more complex attitude towards that time. They add some colour, as if saying that not everything was dark back then. Thus the question mark from the title."

The exhibition begins with a section called „The Old World“ that portraits people from the village.

"That world was perceived as if it did not exist at all. In other sections of this exhibition we see elements which were very visible at that time, for example housing projects or banners with communist propaganda, but these old people from the village were almost invisible to the mainstream. Photographers, mainly from today’s Czech republic tried to picture the purity and romantism of the rural life where strong values stood ground."

Then the exhibition moves on to a section that seems more familiar to those who still remember something about life in communism.

"We wanted to find a link between the atmosphere of the old world with its life full of rituals and the new one. Rituals were the best possible link so we looked for some rituals of this new world. We decided that May 1st celebration could be a good one because it took place every year and it was like a landmark for people living at that time. Thus all these photos of people marching in front of the tribune carrying potraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Czechoslovak communist leaders some of them sitting at the tribune. Some photos show how the march was prepared, others how it ends and afterwards looked like. It’s like a documentary film of that day."

The section dedicated to the Velvet Revolution itself is very small. I am sure there were many good quality photos taken at that time. Why is this section so small?

"It’s true that the section dedicated to the Velvet Revolution is the Achile’s Heel of this exhibition. I must admit we prepared it in a hurry and it can be improved. Another reason is that many pictures done at that time have been lost."

The exhibition is on display at the National Gallery in Bratislava until March 2nd next year. It's recommended.