Similar stories unfold across the entire Eastern Bloc, sharing its wartime memories, and later those related to the communist regime. Prague-based artist Martina Smutná makes us realize how close and ambiguous the notion of the small fight can be – small as opposed to the one that overw helms. Smutna’s paintings are dominated by fatigue and sadness of an individual person – the human factor of big stories. In this case, the artist is a writer focusing on the fate of modest relationships, such as the mother-daughter bond recovering from an earlier conflict (Blue Onion, 2020) or the lonely bride that prepares for her wedding (Preparation, 2020).
The idiom “z pan brat”* gives the show a male-centered twist. The full version of the above phrase – “być z kimś za pan brat” – means “to be on intimate terms with someone”. To announce the deconstruction of the eponymous archaism, the exhibition is promoted with the painting titled Wedding Cake (2020), featuring the bride’s hand reaching for a cake knife. There are thin trickles of blood both on the cake and the dagger. It is a world of emotions and relationships seen from the perspective of stereotypes about social roles.
The paintings, deliberately aestheticized by the artist, discuss the issues of imposed representations and roles, someone else’s bodies, and finally fatigue and anger, which, according to the artist, contributes to emancipation. In single stories, hidden under smoothly laid paint, the artist jumps from topic to topic to finally write a captivating and seemingly innocent tale about social norms. Smutná wonders how to “overthrow” commodity painting so that it becomes a pure critical instrument. The question is, is it necessary? Perhaps we will never brush off the market value of the canvas, perhaps under the pastel colors and small sizes we can hide something other than what we see on the occasion of – among other things – street protests which are not appropriate to monetize, which does not mean that it cannot be.
Martina Smutná graduated from the Prague Academy of Fine Arts and participated in numerous exhibitions and art projects. She was a finalist in the EXIT Award (2015), the Critics’ Award (2014). She participated in residence program at the “Izolyatsia” Cultural Center in Kiev and at the Czech Center in Bucharest. The artist recently exhibited at EXILE gallery in Vienna and took part in the Baltic Triennial 14. Her works will be exhibited at MODEM gallery in Budapest. She received a fellowship with the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where she developed her PhD thesis focused on the origin and consequences of using the gender-different indication, such as “female painting”. In some of her series, she raises the question of the relationship between the upper classes of the 18th century and today’s middle-class bourgeoisie. Smutná portraits the relation between the pursuit of change and disciplined inertia, the tension between power and powerlessness. The last series of her paintings depicts a family and traditions, as well as the risk of the generational transfer of traditions. She considers her artistic work a language she uses to talk about intimate, personal subjects, as well as general social issues. Her paintings are transgressing the confines between the past, present and apocalyptic future.
* The semantic overtone of the idiom „as thick as thieves”, the English equivalent of „za pan brat”, is a little different. “Za pan brat” is an anachronism of the Polish language and a moral testimony. It conveys a courteous manner of addressing family members. In this case, the phrase “panie bracie” was used when addressing a male relative. “Pan” means “Mr” and “bracie” – “brother”.