Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Many Masks: The Radical Politics and Performance of Míra Holzbachová

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube Live.

Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a presentation by Meghan Forbes, Leonard A. Lauder Postdoctoral Fellow in Modern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This event is part of the event series East Central Vanguard: New Perspectives on the Avant-Garde.

The Czech dancer, choreographer, and anti-fascist activist Míra Holzbachová (1901-1982) enjoyed much popularity during her long lifetime, and yet, her story has been relegated to a few footnotes in the art historical record. Nevertheless, her fascinating and complex story offers a lens through which to offer a critical examination of socialist ideation at discreet moments across the twentieth century through various regime changes, from the democratic First Republic of the interwar period, through the Nazi occupation of the Second World War, the Stalinist years and subsequent Prague Spring of 1968, and the decade following its aftermath.

This talk for the series East Central Vanguard will focus on Holzbachová’s early career between the two World Wars and discuss her interwar performances against the backdrop of the colonial imaginary, identity formation, and leftist resistance. Her performances on the avant-garde stage, that employ pantomime and the mask, are introduced and presented as tropes in art making prevalent across Europe at the time that exhibit cultural appropriation and exoticization tied to the continent’s colonial legacy. These performances invite a consideration of Holzbachová’s dances alongside better known instances from Western sites of the avant-garde, such as Dadaist Sophie Taeuber’s performances at the Cabaret Voltaire. Through a comparative approach, this talk more broadly emphasizes that while small European countries without significant imperial holdings, such as Czechoslovakia, have largely been outside the field of vision in decolonial approaches to interwar art, such a methodology is indeed relevant in the context of Central Europe, and a critical approach to Holzbachová’s performance practices can likewise help to advance the discourse around better-studied sites, such as Dada in its Western European constellation.

Image caption: Program for “Mira Holzbachová: unique recital de danse” (Míra Holzbachová: A unique dance recital). Theatre de le Porte St-Martin, Paris, March 23, 1938. Courtesy of the National Museum (Sbírka Národního muzea), fond Míra Holzbachová, file number H6p-3/85.

Meghan Forbes is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art at the Met, where she is completing a book manuscript that documents the adaptation of new print technologies by the Czech interwar avant-garde in their book and magazine publications. Meghan’s writings have been published widely, and she has received numerous fellowships in support of her research, including a Fulbright Award to Berlin, Germany (2014–15). She is the sole editor of International Perspectives on Publishing Platforms: Image, Object, Text (Routledge, 2019) and co-curator of BAUHAUS↔VKhUTEMAS: Intersecting Parallels (Museum of Modern Art Library, 2018). She holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

East Central Vanguard: New Perspectives on the Avant-Garde

2021 Lecture Series

East Central European Center is pleased to host a webinar series on interwar art and culture. This series focuses on artists from East Central Europe whose art practices and contributions to various local and international avant-gardes have attracted less or no critical attention within Modernism Studies.

The avant-garde demand for crossing aesthetic boundaries within the domain of everyday life does not necessarily nullify the modernist right of art to its autonomy, but seeks to understand art as a practice accessible to all and based on the belief in its power to fundamentally change and improve social conditions. The avant-garde replaced the modernist perception of the uniqueness of the work of art that yields aesthetic pleasure isolated from practical life, with the direct call for “Art into life!” The repercussion of efforts to abolish the distance between art and life is characterized, above all, by the fact that we no longer speak of avant-garde texts or objects in the categories of literary work or aesthetic artwork, but in the categories of literary, or rather, avant-garde manifestations. The East Central Vanguard webinar series is devoted to an investigation of artists from East Central Europe whose lives and art practices deserve to be credited amongst such avant-garde manifestations.

FEBRUARY 23, 2021
Off the Page: In Search of the Romanian Avant-Garde Outside its Publications

Alexandra Chiriac (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

MARCH 23, 2021
Many Masks: The Radical Politics and Performance of Míra Holzbachová

Meghan Forbes (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

MARCH 30, 2021
Radical Women: Jolán Simon and Other Female Artists in Hungarian Avant-Garde Periodicals

Gábor Dobó (Kassák Museum – Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest)

APRIL 6, 2021
The Zenithist Woman

Žarka Svirčev (Institute for Literature and Arts, Belgrade)

APRIL 20, 2021
Katarzyna Kobro and Debora Vogel as “Composers of Space”

Michalina Kmiecik (Jagiellonian University, Kraków)

Event Video