Freedom, flying and dreams of Peter Sís in the DOX centre

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Michaela Šilpochová
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Prague DOX Centre for contemporary art opens its autumn season with an extensive exhibition On flying and other dreams by a world-renowned author of children books, illustrator and artist Peter Sís. 

The stories of Peter Sís are almost always about freedom – the quest for it, the loss of it and most of all about its importance. “Outer” and “inner” freedom of an individual cannot be taken for granted and it’s necessary to commemorate this fundamental value not only on the thirtieth anniversary of the Velvet revolution.

The exhibition On Flying and Other Dreams introduces illustrations and texts from five books by Peter Sís – visitors can let themselves be enchanted by a story about hope from The Conference of the Birds, become entranced by magic Prague of the Three Golden Keys or by chilly atmosphere of the previous regime, evoked by the author in the book The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.

The exhibition includes a practically unknown collection of collages called Diaries, also a painting and drawing on the wall which Peter Sís made directly inside DOX and for DOX, and teasers from the upcoming biographical documentary The Dreams of Stray Cats.

The exhibition also features the Flying Man tapestry made for Václav Havel airport in Prague, which the visitors can thanks to kindness of Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97 see for the first time up close, outside the premises of the transit part of the Terminal 2.

On Flying and Other Dreams exhibition presents a magical glimpse of Peter Sís's marvellous universe. A universe of amazing quests, adventures and journeys both real and imagined. The exhibition features illustrations from five of his acclaimed books in which flying and dreaming are linked with the theme of “inner” and “outer” freedom. Three of the books are also autobiographical stories, set in Prague the city of his childhood. 

His protagonists are adventurers, dreamers, pilots, adventurous aeronauts, sailors, travellers: free-thinking spirits with the courage to create, dream, and push the limits of human endeavour and knowledge. Above all, his stories are almost always about freedom – the quest for it, the loss of it and most of all about its importance.

In The Conference of the Birds, inspired by an epic 12th century Sufi poem, a flock of birds led by the wise hoopoe that set out on a long and perilous voyage to the mountain of Kaf in search of the true king Simorgh. By the end of the journey through the seven valleys (Quest, Love, Understanding, Friendship, Unity, Amazement, and Death), only thirty birds survive. There they find their answer. 

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. In the words of the late president Václav Havel, this book is “most of all about the will to live one’s life in freedom”. It “should be required compulsory reading for all those who take their freedom for granted,” he said.  The book offers an insight into life behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War when individual freedom was just a dream for most people.

In Three Golden Keys the author returns to the city of his childhood. After a wild and turbulent storm, a balloonist is blown off course and finds himself descending toward the spires of a big city. As he wanders through its labyrinth of ancient and crooked streets, guided by a black cat, he gradually starts to recall the sounds, smells, colours, and legends of the city he had left behind with no hope of return.

Robinson is inspired by yet another childhood memory. At a school costume party, the protagonist is teased by his class mates because of the Robinson Crusoe costume his artist mother fashioned for him. Embarrassed and disappointed, he flees and escapes into a dream in which a deserted tropical island becomes his new home.

The Pilot and the Little Prince tells the life of the legendary French aviator, adventurer, and writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry. This beautiful story of fulfilled dreams, loneliness, and the search for the meaning of life is an homage to the creator of the iconic Little Prince.

Along with the illustrations from his books, the exhibition also features Peter´s notebooks – part sketchbook, part research notes, and part scrapbook, which he makes for every book project and in which “there is always by 90 percent more than would fit in a book,” as the author says.

The part of the exhibition dedicated to Peter´s life also includes short videos from a new documentary film to be launched in 2020 entitled The Dreams of Stray Cats directed by Peter’s brother David Sís. 

The exhibition also presents a series of works entitled Diaries (1998), a collection of 22 intricate and detailed collages made from travel documents, receipts, postcards, exotic snapshots, and illustrations created for American newspapers and magazines. In Peter’s words, these works, that remained hidden in his childhood home in Prague for more than 21 years, capture “mysterious notions about unreachable places from the time before the internet, when everything was possible”. 

In recent years Peter has collaborated with Art for Amnesty on a series of monumental tapestries honouring great leaders in the struggle for human rights and freedom including, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or John Lennon. The first of the tapestries dedicated to the Czech President Václav Havel was unveiled in 2012 at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport. A flock of white birds forms a figure with a distinct red heart, alluding to an inseparable part of Václav Havel’s signature. The tapestry is featured in the exhibition with the kind permission of the Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation – VIZE 97. Symbolically embodies the exhibition’s message that’s valid on the thirtieth anniversary of the Velvet revolution just as at any time: that freedom is a fundamental human right and a value that must not be taken for granted. “I am very glad that we could borrow the tapestry and that not only I, but also all visitors can have a look at it up close,” says delighted Peter Sís. 

For the exhibition, the artist also drew on the DOX centre wall the transformation poet Attar into a hoopoe, a scene that readers might know from his book The conference of the Birds. “This was a completely new experience for me, to draw in such a scale and moreover on a wall. I am very glad that I can usher visitors into the exposition and have a truly personal contact with this generous exhibition,” says Peter Sís.

The exhibition will be supplemented by a rich accompanying programme: a number of commented tours with curators, lectors, but also with Joachim Dvořák who publishes Peter Sís in the Czech Republic in his publishing house Labyrint. Theatre Drak from Hradec Králové will premiere in Prague its adaptation of the book Wall, parents and grandparents can take their children to family art workshops and to the workshop of Raketa magazine, schools can choose from three education programmes and also a biographic film The Dreams of Stray Cats will be introduced there. You will find the detailed programme at

On the author

Peter Sís is an internationally renowned writer of children’s books, illustrator, graphic artist and a creator of animated films. He was born in 1949 in Brno and grew up in Prague. He studied painting and filmmaking at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and the Royal College of Art in London. He came to America in 1982, where he started illustrating for periodicals like The New York Times and soon began writing books. Since then he has been living in New York with his family and regularly returns to his native country. Peter’s books are published by Labyrint publishing house in the Czech Republic. 

He received numerous awards for his work all over the world – from the Golden Bear from the Film Festival in Berlin to several medals from the American Library Association. He has won The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year award eight times and he got two Ragazzi Awards at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Peter Sís is the first children’s book artist to be named a MacArthur Fellow and in 2012 he won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for his lifetime work.

Peter has written 26 books, illustrated a further 60, and has made almost thirty animated films. In addition, he has designed posters, objets d’art, mosaics, murals and tapestries, among the most remarkable being a mosaic mural for the New York Subway and monumental tapestries in Prague, Dublin, Cape Town. Currently he is working on his book about Nicholas Winton MBE.

Peter Sís: On Flying and Other Dreams

13 | 9 | 2019 – 20 | 1 | 2020

Exhibition by: Michaela Šilpochová, Leoš Válka, Ivana Brádková

Partners of the exhibition: children magazine Raketa, Frmol Production, Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97

Photos for download

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