• IDIOTIC SYSTEM (Hungary, 1971-1976)

  • MONTENEGRO – THE YOUNGEST OLD NATION IN THE WORLD (Montenegro, 2007)

  • UNTITLED (Bulgaria, 1989)

Behind Walls

Eastern Europe before 1989

In 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the end of the East Block. Socialism and totalitarianism made way for capitalism and democracy. A unique reservoir of photography was buried along with the old values. Over the years, each of the member states of the East Block developed their own photographic vocabulary, which almost never extended beyond their national borders. Now that memories of the Communist era are no longer welcome, this historically important body of photography faces the threat of remaining unseen forever.

Two decades after the end of the East Block, Noorderlicht unlocks this forgotten treasure. In service of the regime, independently or working underground, photographers in the East Block documented a now vanished era, each in their own way. Behind Walls, the 15th Noorderlicht Photofestival, offers an overview of their work, which is being seen here for the first time outside its country of origin. Never before has photography from all the former East Block lands been brought together in one large-scale presentation.

Censorship and lack of freedom were a self-evident part of life in the days of the East Block. The totalitarian regimes propagated an heroic image of socialist society. Photographs of everyday scenes and personal interests were not appreciated. Only in periods of relative freedom, such as during the Prague Spring, but also in the DDR of the late 1970s, did photographers violate the unwritten rules. At other moments flight into a self-created reality offered solace, and this became a great stimulant for photographic experimentation.

Proud portraits of the 'worker of the month', clandestine photographs of staged people's manifestations, advertising for products that were not available, forbidden photographs of nude women: Behind Walls draws a fascinating picture of life and photography in the Socialist paradise. In one international presentation the viewer can see how photographers throughout the East Block experienced the world around them, and how the absence of freedom affected their work. With contributions by 35 photographers from twelve countries, Noorderlicht brings to life a world that ceased to exist in 1989.

  • Behind Walls

    Eastern Europe before 1989

    Fries Museum, Leeuwarden

    Behind Walls concludes the series of five editions of the festival that focused on photography from various non-Western regions and earlier looked at Africa, South America, the Arab world and South and Southeast Asia.

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  • Beyond Walls

    Eastern Europe after 1989

    Fries Museum, Leeuwarden

    A new Eastern Europe arose after 1989. The Iron Curtain disappeared, the street scene changed unrecognizably. Some countries disintegrated, a majority have become members of the European Union. After four decades of Communism, capitalism is the new ideology. Individualism has replaced collectivism, opposition politics is again permitted. The heroic worker has had to become a critical consumer.

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  • Transition

    Fries Museum, Leeuwarden

    One photograph from each East Bloc country of a decisive moment during the fall of the communist regime or the turbulent period that followed.

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  • Heimatgedanken

    Kantoorboekenfabriek Scheepstra, Leeuwarden

    Four intimate photo series and a video of an unseen DDR which together provide an unexpected picture of life behind the Wall.

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