The Legacy of the 70s and 80s in Contemporary Activism

Come join this discussion about how the artistic movements of the 1970s and 1980s inform the way we respond to today’s problems. We will welcome graphic novelists Andrzej Klimowskiand Danusia Schejbal and cultural activist Major Waldemar Fydrych to discuss with Klara Kemp-Welch (Courtauld Institute) their experiences as artists living and working behind the Iron Curtain.

Under repressive political and economic systems, art is often the best platform for opposition. It is often during times of civil unrest or financial crisis that artistic and cultural movements flourish, and with them a spirit of freedom and a desire for change.

In their collaborative autobiography, Behind the Curtain, graphic novelists Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal explore their formative years as artists in 1970s Poland, where they found themselves part of a vibrant community producing visionary work across the arts – even as prices rocketed, trade unions drove social unrest and, finally, tanks appeared in the street.

Major Waldemar Fydrych’s Lives of the Orange Men tells the story of the Orange Alternative, the 1980s activist-art movement, which employed surrealist creativity to destabilise the Communist government. In an atmosphere in which dissent was forbidden and martial law a reality, Fydrych and his fellow activists deployed thousands of dwarves to overwhelm the Citizens’ Militia and restaged the storming of the Winter Palace using cardboard tanks and ships.

Klimowski, Schejbal and Fydrych will visit Calvert 22 to discuss their experiences and the legacy of artistic movements from the 1970s and 1980s. How, in such an oppressive atmosphere, did a community of artists flourish? And how might the success of these movements inform the work of activists and artists in today’s society, where oppression, while less visible, is equally present?

Organised in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute in London, UCL School of Slavic and East European Studies, Minor Compositions, and SelfMadeHero.

This event will also introduce FRINGE, a new UCL research centre that  explores the roles that complexity, ambivalence, and immeasurability play in social and cultural phenomena.