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Kafka festival opened with Kafkaesque exhibit at Czech Embassy Sept. 3

Illustration by Jiri Sliva, whose 'KAFKA & Co.' exhibit opened Czech Embassy's 'Mutual Inspirations Festival' Sept. 3. Festival of films, concerts, lectures continues through Oct. 31.
Illustration by Jiri Sliva, whose 'KAFKA & Co.' exhibit opened Czech Embassy's 'Mutual Inspirations Festival' Sept. 3. Festival of films, concerts, lectures continues through Oct. 31.
Illustration by Jiri Sliva, whose 'KAFKA & Co.' exhibit opened Czech Embassy's 'Mutual Inspirations Festival' Sept. 3.

'KAFKA & CO.'

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The Czech Embassy on Sept. 3 launched its "Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014 Franz Kafka" with an exhibit of Kafkaesque illustrations by Czech cartoonist and artist Jiří Slíva.

Jiri Sliva's 'KAFKA & CO.' exhibit opened Czech Embassy's 'Mutual Inspirations: Kafka Festival' Sept. 3-Oct. 31
Illustration and its photo are by Czech artist Jiri Sliva, whose 'KAFKA & CO.' exhibit opened Czech Embassy's 'Mutual Inspirations: Kafka Festival' Sept. 3-Oct. 31

The absurdist illustrations in "KAFKA & CO." are filled not just with bugs, as in "Metamorphosis", but also with wine, coffee, jazz, and much humor, all loved by the great writer. Kafka was reputed to LOL as he read his writings.

Many guests laughed out loud, and certainly smiled at the wry, dry, cartoons, lithographs, and etchings by Slíva:

  • Kafka's eyes bug out as he reads "The Book Review" magazine (probably panning his work), while a big munches on the publication. It's framed with "Franz Kafka -- Metamorphoblues", showing one cockroach playing a sax, while another plucks two guitars.
  • In "Love Story", two bugs are on a bed, as in bed bugs, and "pyrrhocoris apterus" (red fire bugs) is emblazoned under the bed. It's framed with an African warrior holding a shield that's actually one of these red and black bugs, entitled "Schwarz Kafka" or black Kafka, a pun on schwarzkopf, which means blackhead, and might be a reference to Gen. Norman Shwarzkopf, Jr., who led U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf War, and/or Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, a renowned 20th century soprano and a Nazi party member.
  • One of the punniest was "Jam Session", wherein musicians play while jammed inside a piano.

Many of the punniest and funniest had to do with Freud, like "Psychoblues (Blues for Freud)", and "Libido", showing Freud feeding wiry black hair to a caged "Libido", a sort of white Rorschach blot.

(Freud and Kafka both believed "things were not really what they seemed ... to learn the truth, it was necessary to go into the realm of dreams to find a way of comprehending the incomprehensible," according to "Franz Kafka" by Neil Hines and Portia Williams Weiskel.)

  • Beneath a diploma in "Vinoanalysis" -- Freud reputedly loved fine bordeaux wine -- a man with a corkscrew, Pinoccio-like nose and a wine bottle lies on the psychoanalyst's couch, as Sigmund sits and takes notes. It's framed with a similar scene, but the analysand has a bund cake on his groin. "Psychodesert" is written on the bottom. The case of the missing "s" in dessert -- a typo or one of numerous multiple meanings in Kafka's and Slíva's works.
  • Variations on this theme are "Café Therapie" a play on café/coffee mug, a large red one, on an analysand's face, and a saucer on his chest, while a waiter cum Freud jots notes.

Slíva, whose work has appeared in "The New York Times", "The Wall Street Journal", "Playboy", and many other international publications, told guests that his cartoons reflect "the suffering side and the enjoying side of Kafka's work."

Slíva also quoted one of his own poems, "everyone has his own Kafka".

Czech Ambassador to the U.S. Petr Gandalovic told guests at the embassy reception Sept. 3, "We are not about to try to translate Kafka; we invite you to be inspired by Kafka."

The embassy's festival, that continues through Oct. 30, features theatre and concert performances, films, and lectures at the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, as well as at the embassy.

A musical version of Kafka's "Metamorphosis" at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Sept. 10-21 is unique. This interpretation of "Metamorphosis", by the Alliance for New Music-Theatre, interweaves soundscapes, traditional Jewish melodies, animation, and vocal improvisations accompanied by live cello. To hear "Bug Crawl", "Gregor's Lament", and "Celebration Dance", click here and scroll down.

Other highlights include:

Concerts:

  • "Overlapping Worlds", Czech and Jewish music that has resonated throughout Prague for centuries, will be performed by Russian Jewish violin virtuoso Alexander Shonert accompanied by his mother, pianist Natalia Shonert on Oct. 26, 6:30 P.M., at a free concert at the National Gallery's West Building, West Garden Court.

Films:

  • The Library of Congress on Sept. 17 begins its "Docs in Salute" free series with "The Trials", from the documentary trilogy "Between a Star and a Crescent". The film, in English, demonstrates that Jews in Czechoslovakia were victims not only of the Holocaust, but also of the subsequent communist tyranny. A Q&A with director Martin Šmok follows the screening.
  • On Oct. 1, the Library of Congress will screen "Father of Refugees", focusing on the mysterious death of Charles Jordan, a high-ranking official of a major Jewish humanitarian organization. He aimed to change the very core of the conflict in the Middle East. In the summer of 1967, his body was pulled from Czechoslovakia's Vltava River shortly after he had disappeared.

Most of the series' films are at 1 P.M. at the Library's James Madison Building, Mary Pickford Theater, 3rd floor, Independence Avenue at First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C.

Lectures:

  • "Czech Jews under Communists 1945–1989" by documentary director Martin Šmok on Sept. 17 at the Czech Embassy. Using filmed interview excerpts, photographs, and documents, the lecture will explore aspects of postwar history of Prague's Jewish community. Admission is free but RSVP is required.
  • "Kafka’s Magic Prague" by Czech Cultural Attaché Robert Řehák on Oct. 23 at the embassy. Prague's vibrant history spans more than a thousand years of coexistence among Czechs, Germans, and Jews. Řehák will explore this majestic city through its many legends, and delve into its origins. This provides insight into the history that inspired Franz Kafka's works. Admission is free but RSVP is required.

Kafka (1883-1924), born in Prague to a Jewish middle-class, German-speaking family, wrote in his free time, while he worked as a lawyer for an insurance company. Eventually, he realized that writing would be his main focus.

"I am nothing but literature and can and want to be nothing else," wrote Kafka ("Diaries 1910-1913". He became one of the icons of twentieth century literature, but kept his day job until tuberculosis forced him to resign.

"Writing is a form of prayer," he wrote to his best friend, writer-philosopher Max Brod.

Kafka had instructed Brod -- "Everything I leave behind me...be burned unread." But Brod betrayed Kafka, who died of TB at age 40. Within a year, Brod got "The Trial" published, followed by "The Castle" (1926), and "Amerika" (1927).

(In 1939, minutes before Nazis shut the borders of Czechoslovakia, Brod carried one suitcase with thousands of Kafka's manuscript pages, and fled to Palestine. Much of the contents of that suitcase were embroiled in a legal battle, evocative of "The Trial", for more than half a century. It was finally resolved by an Israeli court in 2012. Click here for excerpt of film "Kafka's Last Story".)

Kafka's works greatly influenced existentialism, and writers including Nobel Prize winners Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre (he declined it), and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, as well as composers and artists.

The festival celebrates the mutual inspirations between Czech and American cultures, and beyond. Prior honorees have included Václav Havel 2013, Miloš Forman 2012, and Antonín Dvořák 2011.

As Kafka wrote in "Amerika", "Everyone is welcome!"

One incentive to attend, "Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old," Kafka wrote.

For more info: "Mutual Inspirations Festival 2014 – Franz Kafka", www.mutualinspirations.org. Embassy of the Czech Republic, www.mzv.cz/washington, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 202-274-9100.