Prague exhibition shows everyday life in distant lands

A unique exhibition of photographs and souvenirs from three continents called "From Another World" opened in Prague's Technical Museum on Thursday. The head of Czech Radio's foreign desk, Miroslav Konvalina, and his wife Marketa are displaying the results of five years of travel to numerous countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The souvenirs are mostly everyday items, and the photographs aren't the kind of holiday snaps usually brought back by tourists. But neither are they the usual photos taken by journalists - showing floods, earthquakes, war and so on. Olga Szantova, who was present for the opening of the exhibition, was struck by the deep understanding for the local people and their everyday lives, as well as the deeply optimistic message conveyed therein. Miroslav Konvalina explained.

"Yes, it is. We just decided to go to ordinary people. We are tired of seeing only extremes, only top level dissidents. We want to go to ordinary people, to see their lives, their troubles, how, for example, religion helps them to go through all these troubles. For instance we visited Burma, where the army junta is and people are still living, they are still bringing up their children, they are still preserving their culture. And our message is: Look at these people are over there, we have to try and understand not only their struggle but also their ordinary life."

Some of the photographs are really unusual.

"Yes, it is very difficult to decide, which one is the best, but I love, for instance, this little girl, which is from Thailand. She is eating noodles. We realised that it's much more exciting in the morning, to sit round, to enjoy breakfast and just look at the people from the restaurant, than to be in a hurry to see Taj Mahal in India and other famous sites. Sometimes it's much more exciting to just sit around, among ordinary people, have coffee or tea and just enjoy the simple life."

Does your profession on the Foreign Desk of Czech Radio help you prepare for what you'll see?

"No, because maybe sometimes I know too much about politics, about regimes in these countries, and sometimes it's very difficult not to speak about politics with the people I would like to ask most. For instance, in Burma I met students. The universities are closed and we know we can talk about everything, but not about closing universities and about politics. And still, we go there and bring Time magazine, or some newspapers, and they are so grateful. They are writing letters to us. And because we went through an authoritarian regime, I think we can understand them more easily than maybe some people from more developed and established democratic countries in the world."

The exhibition is certainly helping to deepen that understanding, says the Director of the United Nations Information Centre in the Czech Republic, Andreas Nicklisch, who was also present for the opening.

"They are indeed very impressive. They open up new worlds, and that is what it's supposed to do. It is supposed to confront you with images you don't know and make the less familiar more familiar to you and thereby reduce the fear of the unknown. That is something very important that this exhibit achieves. You know that we are celebrating the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilisations. This is a very important part of that. We can hold speeches, but nothing is as strong as an image, as a picture. And seeing people, who are looking strange, who are doing other things, yet are very beautiful and act in a context which is part of our global civilisation, I think can do much to reduce these fears."

Andreas Nicklisch, director of the United Nations Information Centre in the Czech Republic. And you can see the 'From Another World' exhibition at Prague's Technical Museum in Letna, or if you can't make it in person, tune into the Arts in two weeks' time to hear more.

Author: Olga Szantová
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