It’s April, but the long Budapest winter seems to tighten its grip on the steely skies and reflective waters of the Danube even as the snow melts down the Buda hills. I’m ready for winter to end, but even as it does I am sad because I know it means my time here is ending. When I came in September at the beginning of my Fulbright grant’s nine-month term, I was prepared to like this city of bridges and complicated history, its slightly more Eastern feel, but I didn’t know I would fall in love with the gritty energy and lived charm of its 19th century streets, still marked with the bullet holes of failed revolutions. How romantic sounding, but my time here has not been so nostalgic: I came to research how contemporary Hungarian artists represent national identity, a contentious and actively constructed concept in this country, as in the region overall. My host institution, ACAX and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, provided me access and insight into the local scene, but they had no idea themselves about some of the changes on the horizon. As the political situation began to directly affect the cultural sphere, artists joined with other segments of Hungarian society in protest, and I found myself attending activist demonstrations and delving into the complicated recent history of political change here.
Obviously these reactions formed an interesting dimension of my research here, and perhaps it is always the nature of research for one thing to lead to another. In a parallel example of that principle at work, I had the intensely rewarding experience of curating the first-ever exhibition of Fulbright artists in Berlin this past March, bringing together nine artists currently working in parts of Europe as diverse as Greenland, Italy, and Albania. Along with my co-curator and fellow Fulbrighter Trevor Amery, a self-organized show came together first virtually, then “IRL” (in real life) in Berlin, and along with it, the chance to connect with people across the world. Now I am wrapping up my research and arranging my last artist meetings. Those first days in September seem wrapped in heat-filled haze of foreignness, and I think how remarkable it is our worlds can change so quickly.
-- by Linnea West
West’s blog Art Ravels has been named one of “the best art blogs you’ve never heard of.” She is currently living in Budapest as a Fulbright Fellow researching contemporary Hungarian art.
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