Volf's Revier: Insightful Jiří Surůvka

Volf's Revier: Insightful Jiří Surůvka

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If someone were to ask me about standout pieces from the 'Na led!' exhibition, particularly focusing on the post-1989 era, I'd definitely highlight Jiří Surůvka's striking digital prints on canvas. You simply can't miss them at the Kinský Palace, where the whole hockey extravaganza unfolds. They're titled matter-of-factly: 'German Hockey Team 1936' and 'Russian Hockey Team 1936'. In those German jerseys adorned with swastikas, you'll spot Hitler alongside Göring, with Mussolini not too far off, while the Russian side boasts Stalin, Molotov, and Voroshilov.

While the portrayal highlights differences (the Russians standing while the Germans sit on the bench), in this context, it's evident that both Nazism and Communism are criminal regimes that left behind suffering and millions of dead.

Jiří Surůvka, 1997, "Russian Hockey Team 1936," digital print, 150x100 cm

The diptych was created in 1997, a time of relative calm and prosperity, except for the war in former Yugoslavia. It was first exhibited in 1997 at the Schnittstellen exhibition, Neue tschechische Kunst, at Kunstverein Konstanz in Germany. Despite this, Surůvka subtly touched on something that fully manifested in the 21st century, during the era of dictator Vladimir Putin. In Russia, there has been a surge of nationalism and nostalgia for the former USSR, with Stalin, who massacred his own people and allied with Hitler, once again celebrated as a hero. Sport is being utilized as a tool of propaganda, with hockey having a particularly important role in the Russian perception as a sport that mystically embodies the qualities of a chosen nation: resilience, speed, and toughness.

Jiří Surůvka, 1997, "German Hockey Team 1936," digital print, 150x100 cm

In 2014, the Winter Olympic Games took place in Sochi, which Putin fully exploited, much like Hitler did with the Olympics in Berlin. He portrayed Russia as a peaceful country maintaining exemplary relations with all states. Shortly after foreign delegations left Sochi, Russia annexed Crimea. Eight years later, without declaring war, it invaded Ukraine. Times change, but the captivating methods remain similar because it's a tried and tested strategy, unfortunately with tragic consequences. Putin constantly presents himself to the public as a hockey enthusiast, even though his policies ultimately mean that Russian hockey players – like many other athletes – cannot participate in international competitions and find themselves isolated.

As a general rule, we don't engage or play with those who commit murder. It's the least we can do to highlight injustice. However, Russians consider this unfair and try to create the impression that they are being wronged. But they cry at the wrong grave. The truth is, nobody missed them at the World Championship in Prague. They gradually fade into obscurity.

For more insights from Petr Volf on the world of art and sports, click here.

The "Na led!" exhibition at the National Gallery in Prague will run until October 27, 2024.

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Published 11.06.2024

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