The Joke – Liberty, Censorship, and Death
An ode to Milan Kundera’s work The Joke, this piece reflects the hardships faced not only by central character Ludvik, but by the population of Czechoslovakia at the time. Under soviet rule a great censorship of ideas was employed; thought must be uniform and positive, always favoring the party over all else. A simple joke such as the one made by Ludvik can be life changing, and even more-so change a person in their heart.
In the bottom panel a man turns from the viewer; he has no identity and no face, forever bargaining with a higher force. His outline is unfinished as he is not allowed to present himself as one, separate, a single man. This openness can also be a reflection on the policing of thought. Behind him traditional Czech patterns creep up documents, a celebration of the culture and a promotion of Pan-Slavism. Ornaments and traditions held sacred become tools of the governing forces, separated from their original meanings. On the right, images of old Czech mailboxes and other soviet icons cluster around the top of the painting, against another document outlining the story of the book. This is the weight that he is crushed under, the mailboxes becoming Ludvik’s First judges. The audacity he must have had to slip a joke into a federal receptacle!
As viewers we must take a step back to consider the mess before us; much of the text and explanations obscured, what is the meaning of this joke? So poorly held together, the art piece in itself is a joke, just as Ludvik’s life becomes, and just as the soviet administration becomes to those under it. Humor is used to cope, but there must be liberty to express, something that here has been denied. Without an outlet, all things will perish.