Szoborpark, otherwise known as the Memento Park, lies on the outskirts of Budapest – in the words of the Park’s architect Ákos Eleöd: “This Park is about dictatorship – and at the same time, because it can be talked about, described and built up, this Park is about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide an opportunity to think freely about dictatorship.” It houses many of the larger than life artworks of Communist era Budapest, most of which were removed, rather than destroyed, immediately after the 1989 fall of the regime in Hungary. These huge and powerful works with heroic stances once dominated the hills and public spaces of the city, intended to demonstrate the confidence and strength of the regime – but now they are silenced. Banished to the empty spaces of the outskirts in a small, dusty park with an unfinished air, they felt abandoned to me. Seemingly trapped in a vacuum of power, their voices silent and their message hollow – punished for the acts of their fathers. The fact that we were virtually on our own in their midst on one of those featureless ‘white’ sky days probably added to that impression.
One of the most striking pieces is the Republic of Councils Monument. A gigantic, flag waving worker striding across the landscape; a manifestation of the communist ideal with chiseled features, muscular torso and raised clenched fists. In an attempt to convey the impression of raw power that I felt at the time I have overlayed this shot onto another showing text from the Heroes of People’s Power Memorial. This was created to commemorate the death of members of the AVH (secret police) during the 1956 revolution. The finished image has something of a conflict of messages for me: on the one hand it seems to illustrate the communist ideal, and yet on the other, the worker seems to be raging against the system he once represented.
The Béla Kun Memorial is another enormous and eye catching piece, this time due to the number of elements in it and its construction. The prominent figure of Béla Kun is surrounded by a surging crowd of supporters and soldiers – about twenty six if I spotted them all! The nominally central portion is made from cast bronze whereas much of the crowd is virtually two dimensional and fabricated from welded steel. An odd and unsettling result. My final image is of a pair of hands, apparently holding the fragile ball of communism, offering it as a gift to the world. This remains something of an enigma to me as it seems at odds for communism to be described as fragile, not one of the characteristics normally portrayed. Perhaps ‘precious’ would have been more appropriate?
It was a fascinating exhibition that raised several issues for me. Are these sculptures now simply art or are they icons of a nation’s heritage? Do they exist in their own right or are they symbols of tyranny? Are they inspirational or do they only inspire loathing? I think that they have the potential to polarise opinion and you either love ‘em or loathe ‘em – and maybe that depends to a large extent on whether you lived under their, and the regimes, dominance. Any thoughts ……
If you want to find out more about the park and/or the symbolism behind it and statues then this is a great place to start.
(All images are copyright to Noeline Smith)