Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Cultural Belonging

Whatever it is that the picture to the left seeks to convey it would leave all people in the world clueless and puzzled, save in one country. Among people who grew up there, four out of five would react to the suggested scene with loud, even convulsive laughter.  Why ? 

It is not easy to explain one's attachment to the place to which one was born, and why a child's picture of the world etched in one's soul  for life cannot be torn from that one place one calls home. It is in everyone of us, regardless where we come from. We instinctively deal with the kaleidoscope of the world at large through a prism that was given to us and to which we belong.  We don't know why. It is just the way we humans are and no amount of good-intentioned or hateful preaching will change this.

I saw the picture during my visit to my native Czech Republic in June of last year. I laughed my head off at the ingenious cleverness of its author. But there was distress in that laughter. You will note that the characters to the left are leaving the scene in a hurry.  The village woman runs away from the characters entering from the right in a panic. That much can be read from the picture by anyone, anywhere in the world.  But I will not be able to reproduce that which ignites the neurons in my brain in a way that causes me to go ape momentarily and send spasms to places around my diaphragm. 

I can explain how the collage has been constructed, and I already did that. I can show you the original plate and you will find it to the right of the text here. I can tell you all that you need to know about the original illustrator and I am going to do that. I can also tell you about the fleeing figures in the collage chosen to replace of the cast in the original. All of that I can do and you probably will get an inkling of what was going on in the mischievous mind of the person who modified the picture. But it will not be enough to create the "cultural shock" that your brain will produce if you are a Czech by birth and grew up in the land and if you as a child (and an adult after) learned how to imagine the world painted by the artist.

The artist's name is Josef Lada and he was famous enough in the world to have had an asteroid named after him. Lada was a naivist painter and prolific illustrator of books for children even though he became best known as the illustrator of Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk.


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