Sís tapestry stops off in Prague ahead of installment at new Havel building in Strasbourg

Photo: Ian Willoughby

A tapestry bound for a new Václav Havel building in Strasbourg has just been placed on display at the DOX art centre in Prague. A larger version of the French-made artwork – based on a pictorial tribute to the late Czech president by artist Petr Sís – hangs at Václav Havel Airport. The man behind both is Art for Amnesty founder Bill Shipsey, who has raised funds for numerous memorials linked to Havel over the years. The Irishman explained that the tapestry is currently half-way through an international “tour”.

Photo: Ian Willoughby
“This tapestry has become a world traveller. It started in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the National Czech and Slovak Museum, in August.

“Then it came to the Bohemian National Hall in New York City in September. It was unveiled on September 28, which Mayor de Blasio declared Václav Havel Day.

“Then it travelled back and is now going to spend a couple of months in Prague, before going to Paris, where we hope to display it for a while, either at the Czech embassy or the Czech Centre.

“Then in March it will be going to its permanent home in the new – I love to say this – Václav Havel building in Strasbourg.”

Obviously Havel was very pro-European. But still how has it come about that they have named a building after him in Strasbourg?

“It was a process of a couple of years. In fact it happened before Brexit – it’s not a sort of response to that.

Bill Shipsey, photo: CTK
“The decision was taken over two years ago to rename the building and it’s just taken all that time to renovate it.

“But it’s a huge honour. The previous building to get a name was the Winston Churchill building.

“There are two others named after two French people who were involved in the establishment of what was then the European Economic Community.

“But the Václav Havel building is the first new building to be named in a very considerable time.”

This year we’ve also had the project Havel@80 this year, more Václav Havel Places have been unveiled – and it seems next year there’ll be still more Havel activities?

“Absolutely. And in fact for the Havel building in Strasbourg not only will we have Petr Sís’s Pinton Aubusson [producers Pinton are located in that city] in the main reading room, but also one of the busts by Marie Šeborová – I’m proud to say the first was in the Irish parliament – will be incorporated into a bench at the entrance.

“Then the two photographers whose exhibitions are on here [at DOX], Tomki Němec and Bohdan Holomíček, will also have their photographs in the building.

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek
“And then there are plans for several Havel’s Places, from Lisbon to Ljubljana to Brussels.

“Obviously next year as you know is the 40th anniversary of the foundation of Charter 77.

"So it would be very fitting when Europe is in crisis that they would be reminded in all of these cities about Václav Havel.”