“We Don’t Have to Dance” is an exhibit of collages, assemblages and graphic design from the 1970s and 1980s by Joska Skalník, an important member of the Jazz Section, a significant Czech cultural organization under Communism, and in honor of his 70th birthday.
In August 1968 the Warsaw-Pact army invaded Czechoslovakia putting an end to the liberalization period known as the Prague Spring. After this, with a stricter Communist regime back in power, the process of “normalization” began which first involved removing political reformers. For writers, musicians and artists, this meant a stricter control by the government.
Established during this era, in 1971, the Jazz Section was initially part of the official Musicians Union. As a cultural organization, the Jazz Section used its status to organize jazz and rock concerts and publish books and articles about literature and music, initially with permission from the Communist authorities. Eventually, however, the organization was banned by the government, but they still kept up their activities. The exhibition at Dox includes photographs and graphic design by Skalník for music articles, book and album covers, and samples of the original publications by the Jazz Section.
Joska Skalník was born in 1948 and grew up in Czechoslovakia. As an artist and graphic designer for the Jazz Section during the period when it was most strictly monitored and finally prohibited by the regime, his work is a perfect example of underground art and culture. For their activities, any member could be imprisoned. Even their contracted printers were subject to being arrested. After the regime saw that the Jazz Section continued to print regardless of the ban, the regime accused them of “economic disobedience” and actively started to arrest members. Skalník was one of the Jazz Section members who was arrested and sent to prison for five months. However, his arrest did not stop the continuation of underground printing.
The last examples of samizdat are from the years 1988-1989, just before the Velvet Revolution, in November 1989. Skalník designed the graphics for underground punk and anarchist publications including covers for cassette recordings and punk concert posters.
For Skalník and others from the Jazz Section, it was their choice whether to dance or not to dance while living in a period of restricted freedoms. Skalník shows how, through his art, he was able to have the freedom to dance under a strict regime. “We Don’t Have to Dance” but we still choose to dance. For anyone interested in a unique form of Czech anti-Communist rebellion, “We Don’t Have to Dance” is a must see at the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art.
Open till June 4th, 2018.
Photo courtesy of DOX Centre for Contemporary Art.