No doubt most Filipinos have only one thing in mind when they hear of Pilsen, but make no mistake – what follows has nothing to do with both the Czech and the Filipino nation’s favorite beer.
PILSEN, Czech Republic - When the super-typhoon Haiyan (AKA Yolanda) unleashed its destructive power over the Philippine archipelago last November and thrust the country – once again in an all too predictable fashion - into global spotlight, many Czechs were genuinely touched by the tragedy, expressing their sympathy with Filipinos en masse and donating money for the victims through various local and international charities.
One of the most original ways to express solidarity with the Filipino nation in these trying times was conceived by a group of teachers, students and alumni of the private school of applied arts in the city of Pilsen, administrative center of the West Bohemian region, located about one hundred kilometers west of Prague.
Helping those who help
The school, known simply as Zámeček (i.e. small castle, in Czech), has educated hundreds of artists and specialists in the field of applied painting, sculpture, photography, conservation/restoration, 3D design and graphic design over the last two decades. And while their primary focus might be on giving their graduates necessary skills for their future careers (and understandably so, given it is a private school that has to provide value for money), the teachers are clearly not neglecting the other aspect of education – forming their students into well rounded citizens.
|Café Kačaba - where the world comes together|
Because that is precisely who these teenagers proved to be by actively taking part in a group exhibition of charity posters that are now being sold to raise funds for the victims of the above mentioned deadly typhoon. The idea, first floated by Jiří Světlík and Pavel Botka, two teachers of graphic design at Zámeček (and hugely successful graphic designers in their own right), met with overwhelming enthusiasm of their students. The results of this creative synergy can still be seen (until the February 3rd) in downtown Pilsen’s Café Kačaba where some two dozen posters grace the walls and can be “adopted” for the price of 500 Czech crowns (CZK) - roughly one thousand pesos - or 30 CZK for a smaller print of the same in the form of a postcard.
The proceeds of the charity exhibition will go to the Diaconia of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren that describes itself as “a Christian non-profit organization offering help and support for living a dignified and valuable life despite age, illness, disability, isolation, difficult social situations and other life crisis“. It should be emphasized that Diaconia was among the first Czech organizations that provided aid to the victims of the typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan last November through its partner organizations (Philippine Citizens‘ Disaster Response Center and German Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe).
Diaconia’s West Bohemian center, based in Pilsen, also happens to be behind the idea of setting up Café Kačaba in 2005 as a „sheltered worskshop“ for people with disabilities, a concept that proved to be as worthy as successful. Thus it seemed only natural to mount the charity posters exhibition for the benefit of the typhoon victims in this place which has been giving hope and dignity to dozens of disadvantaged people.
It all came perfectly together last January 23rd when the delegation from the Philippine Embassy in Prague paid a visit to Pilsen to express gratitude of the Philippine nation for this latest act of Czech people‘s sympathy with the victims of Yolanda (there were many more). The visit started in the ateliers of Zámeček in the Pilsen suburb of Křimice where Mr. Juan "Jed" Dayang Jr., Consul at the Philippine Embassy in Prague and Mr. Ramon "Bong" Gaspar, its cultural attaché, were welcomed by the director of the school Mrs. Renata Šindelářová and some of the institution’s teachers including Mr. Botka and Mr. Světlík.
After the brief tour of the school’s ateliers and an informal chat over coffee and cakes the delegation was given a rare honor of visiting the neighboring princely mansion of the Křimice branch of the House of Lobkowicz, one of the most prominent Czech noble families that traces its roots to the 14th century. They have been always fond of art, commissioning many masterpieces over the centuries, and they continue the family tradition by supporting the Zámeček school, which uses some of their buildings for its purposes.
The head of the family, 71-year old Prince (however, the title is not officially used in the Czech Republic ever since the newly independent Czechoslovakia in 1918 abolished nobility and did away with their traditional prerogatives) Jaroslav Lobkowicz - who also happens to be a sitting member of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament - and his first-born son Vladimir, who takes care of the business interests of the family, were at hand to show the foreign guests an their entourage around.
|In the courtyard of the Křimice castle|
The story of the mansion – its sequestration by the state after the communist takeover in 1948 and its eventual restitution to the rightful owners after the communist regime’s downfall in 1989 (though the actual turnover was not completed until 2007) – mirrors the dramatic turns of the modern Czech history and to hear it directly from the owner was a truly enlightening experience. It should be stressed that Lobkowicz family counts among the most traditional Catholic nobility of this country and it was through an act of generosity of one of its own -namely Polyxena of Lobkowicz (1566-1642) – that a small statue of Child Jesus, today widely known and venerated (also in the Philippines, of course) as Infant Jesus of Prague, became an object of public worship in the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague. Therefore it is little surprising that one finds a gem of a chapel decked with masterpieces of Baroque art in the family’s Křimice mansion, restored with a great care to its former glory after several decades of neglect by the atheism preaching communist state.
There’s always a rainbow after the rain
But the time was scarce and it was time to move from Pilsen’s serene suburb of Křimice to its buzzing downtown where Café Kačaba is located for the place was packed with students of Zámeček, all waiting for the rare chance to meet and greet the visiting Filipino diplomats. Mr. Dayang and Mr. Gaspar were each given a copy of a collective poster (consisting of postcard-size views of all the individual posters created for the exhibition) together with several rolls of an original Christmas wrapping paper consisting of suns and stars that appear on the Philippine national flag. In addition Mr. Petr Neumann, Director of the West Bohemian Center of Diaconia, presented the diplomats with a pillow and a throw-rug, hand-made by clients of their sheltered workshop, the symbolic meaning of the gift being the hope that the multitudes of Filipinos made homeless by the deadly typhoon will soon be able to enjoy a sound sleep in a cozy comfort of their restored houses.
|Sweet dreams are made of this (Philippine Embassy's cultural attaché Bong Gaspar gets a pillow from Diaconia's Petr Neumann)|
What followed was a mutually enriching conversation about the life in the Philippines, a country that is visited by twenty tropical storms a year on average – something that most inhabitants of the Czech Republic, a landlocked country with a mild climate, can hardly imagine, but also about the deeper meaning of art and creative process and how individual talents can be pooled to create a group exhibition with a sense of caring and sharing (rather than just showing off or creating art for art’s sake) at its core. The positive feedback that students got from the visiting diplomats was the most gratifying part of the entire undertaking, according to Mr. Světlík who had started the ball rolling in November by coming up with the “Merry Christmas for Everyone?” motto for the class exercise that eventually grew into a full-fledged group show, thus setting up its tone (one of alarm and sympathy for those who were denied the joy of festive season which most of us tend to take for granted).
|It's more fun in the Philippines and we all know it.|
While expressing genuine gratitude for such show of empathy, not expected from usually self-absorbed teenagers, the Filipino envoys tried to pump some optimism into the evening by putting the tragedy of Yolanda into perspective - explaining how resilient the Filipinos are, how famously indomitable their spirit, and also how the year 2013 did not just bring misery to the nation but moments of pure joy and collective pride through multiple Pinay triumphs at world’s top beauty contests or through first boxing victory in more than two years by the People’s Champ Manny Pacquiao. Reviving the DOT campaign’s central motto - “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, which was temporarily suspended in the wake of typhoon’s taking unprecedented toll on human lives, they encouraged everyone present to visit the country and see for themselves that the slogan rings truer than ever.