Photographic retrospective explores post-Cold War communist Czechoslovakia
Whether or not Jitka Hanzlova’s 1982 defection from her home in communist Czechoslovakia to West Germany has any direct bearing on her resulting artistic practice, the very earliest series in this broad-reaching photographic retrospective elicit the strong sense of a disconnect between halcyon childhood memories and the reality of the present moment. The earliest series here is striking, and the fact she could only start it in 1990, the year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has helped position her as a post-Cold War European artist.
Named after her hometown of ‘Rokytnik’, it’s a series of photographs taken on her first visit home post-reunification, which depicts an almost uncannily contented world of odd-looking children at play and women in fashions, which predate the time, an uncomfortable dialogue between past and present amidst the shockwaves of 1989. Since then it’s as if her work has been reaching for but never quite grasped the thrusting new Europe, through ‘Bewohner (Inhabitants)’, a lonely series of portraits and studies taken around the cities of the continent, her street shots of women in the poorest parts of Brixton, and a newfound return to portraiture which concentrates on features over emotion in the Renaissance style – and finally, with the photorealist fairytale ‘Forest’, a return once more to the fading impressions of youth.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 3 Feb