JAROSLAV ABBÉ LIBÁNSKÝ: THE FORGOTTEN LIFE OF THE UNDERGROUND

"The times were very intense and interesting. All the oppression that emerged from this era couldn’t take away the positivity we felt in our lives and in our relationships; and it couldn’t stop us from getting along with each other either," says Czech artist and documentary photographer Jaroslav Abbé Libánský, opening up about life in socialist Czechoslovakia. Check out episode 13 of the documentary series Art in Isolation, produced by Kunsthalle Prague and Memory of Nations.

Thanks to his black-and-white photographs, the forgotten stories of the Czechoslovak underground have survived. Libánský became a signatory to Charter 77 thanks to Egon Bondy, but as a direct consequence of his involvement, he fell victim to the secret police’s latest campaign (code name “Operation Asanace”), whose aim was to force dissidents to flee the country using intimidation methods, humiliation, and torture. Eventually, Libánský had no choice but to emigrate to Austria.

"The underground was really just a gaggle of people who got together because of concerts and music. They all just wanted to do their own thing without any huge ambitions," reflects the self-taught artist, who in a short video portrait recalls, among other things, those unpleasant times when the secret police raided people's houses and the time when he worked as a janitor at the National Gallery.

Why Art in Isolation?
The artistic activity took a strong hit. Exhibitions began to get canceled, various regulations affected direct interaction with colleagues, spectators, and the world stage. Questions about the meaning of art, an artist's mission, and boundaries of freedom emerged yet again. The testimonies of the artists who were creating their art during the communist regime in Czechoslovakia are an important memento of a time gone by and an inspiration for the search for meaningful answers in the present. With or without the crisis.

The stories of artists in the time of totality carry on. You can watch each episode on social media and web platforms of the two associated institutions, Kunsthalle Praha & Post Bellum–Memory of Nations.


Jaroslav Abbé Libánský (*1952) is a self-taught artist who still does documentary photography, collages, and occasionally land art. He earned the nickname Abbé at the Faculty of Theology, moreover, at a time when the French classic film The Count of Monte Cristo (1954) became a huge hit at the Czechoslovak box office. Libánský was part of the Czech underground and a signatory of Charter 77. He was forced to flee to Austria during “Operation Asanace” (the code name for the secret police's "emigration campaign" in the late 1970s and early 1980s). Thanks to his black-and-white images, many forgotten moments in the life of the alternative scene still survive; and Libánský documents similar communities still to this day. These days he resides in Vienna and Slavonice, where he runs an antiquarian bookshop and gallery.