Georgia Museum of Art Symposium on Art and Diplomacy


On March 28 and 29, the Georgia Museum of Art is hosting a symposium entitled “While Silent, They Speak: Art and Diplomacy,” in conjunction with the current exhibition “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy.” I will be giving a talk on the artwork above, Hungarian artistic duo Little Warsaw’s The Body of Nefertiti. András Gálik and Bálint Havas, the two artists of Little Warsaw, were some of the first people I interviewed for my Fulbright project when I lived in Budapest last year, and it’s been a pleasure to come back to this work of theirs, which is also the subject of a longer essay to be published in the summer. If you’re  in the Athens area, it looks like a truly interesting batch of papers beginning at 8:30 am on March 29 (and I’m in the 10:30 session). More about mine, below:

Nefertiti teste / The Body of Nefertiti

“I agreed with Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher that we establish contact at the highest levels with Germany, and lodge a protest against this unethical and ill-considered insanity.” – Faruq Hosni, Egyptian Minister of Culture

Perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian Minister of Culture was reacting to a statue. At the Hungarian Pavilion of the 2003 Venice Biennale, artistic collaborators Little Warsaw presented viewers with a lone sculpture of a female body with its arms hanging by its sides and a deep rectangular excision of the space where a head might appear. Little Warsaw were not able to realize their original conception of joining the head of Nefertiti, the iconic ancient Egyptian bust, with their contemporary bronze within the Pavilion. However, their sculpture was temporarily joined to the head of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Through the statue and documentation of this process, the artists performed a conceptual ‘reunification’ at the Pavilion.

As the quote suggests, the project struck a nerve within Egyptian-German relations on the issue of cultural restitution. If the national pavilions are (ideally) considered a forum of international dialogue and soft diplomacy, then Little Warsaw’s project is a failure. It exposed the historic Western colonialization of an ‘exotic’ Egyptian past and, in an added dynamic, the agents of this exposure were Eastern Europeans from the margins of Europe. This project, through the vehicle of a national pavilion, exposed tensions along geopolitical borders that can also be traced in a broader cultural sense—in which Egyptian (and Hungarian) art historical narratives are subsumed into a dominant Western model. I suggest that in the case of The Body of Nefertiti, with its goal of revealing implicit issues around cultural ownership and lingering cultural imperialism, art becomes not a tool of diplomacy, but a smoking gun.


Subjective Atlas of Hungary


No less than three people recommended the Subjective Atlas of Hungary to me before I finally got over to Irok Boltja to buy a copy, but oh how I enjoyed the colorful, jam-packed volume once I did. Familiar in theme, and at times with the artist of the work, this was a breezy trip through a many sided Hungary.


Part of a series of Subjective Atlases, the different images by 50 artists:

“express the way cultural identity is always in motion, influenced from many sides, and multicultural by definition.

As Lajos Parti Nagy puts it in his introduction: “Whoever encounters this strange and self-evident book, can learn strange and self-evident things about Hungary.”

For me, as my 10 months here is ending and I leave tomorrow for a few more adventures before heading back to the U.S., it’s really interesting to find how much more meaningful many of the works, and their inside jokes and references are, after my time here. My subjective atlas of Hungary has changed significantly.

But now, time to pack for the Balkans.


Lecture Tonight in Budapest


I’ll be giving a lecture tonight on my research this year in Budapest. This is quite a sobering thought–not just because of my bad case of stage fright–but because it signals my 9-month research grant is over. Actually I’ve  already presented at the Fulbright conference and turned in my final paper, so this lecture is just for fun more than anything else. But it has been such a rewarding experience that I hate to see it end.

The past nine months I’ve been looking at representations of national identity in contemporary Hungarian art, which is a polarizing topic within Hungary and a complex matter in any nation, perhaps especially in the former Eastern Bloc. Within this still rather broad field, I focused on critical, Conceptual artworks that I argue enlarge the notion of collective identities outside of the traditional nation-state framework. From an outsider’s perspective, like mine, it has been a fascinating education into Hungarian thought and culture.

So, please, if you’re in Budapest, come join for the lecture! If you want to learn more about my project, check out the website Context and Identity in Contemporary Hungarian Art. You can go the academic route and read my essay, or go the fun &  lite route, perhaps with a few posts about meetings with artists.

Context   Identity in Contemporary Hungarian Art   Reimagining the nea