Growing up in India, statues or sculptures always meant commemorating historical stalwarts and landmarks that we can add later to our postal addresses. In all seriousness, I had never heard of modern art/installations in public places in India while I was young. For us Calcuttans, the biggest statue is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one at a five point crossing in Shyambazar. I even doubt if it was installed for the sole purpose of creating a landmark for the important crossing of five roads. Much later while I lived in Pune, I’ve often heard people doling out directions like – “Turn left at the Shivaji ka putla.” It took me a while to figure out that the mentioned ‘putla’ is a bronze statue, installed at the corner of a bridge, while wondering if it was a shop selling Shivaji inspired figurines.
Europe, on the other hand, has been much experimental with statues/sculptures/fountains and I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit and admire a few of them in awe. Surprisingly, Prague turned out to be a haven of sculptures, even while it is called the city of a thousand spires. The main reason behind this revolution is sculptor David Cerny. Frankly, I learned about him only recently, after having seen photos and videos from people visiting Prague. There is no disagreement on the fact that Indian visitors to Europe were sparse before the EU and Schengen visa for 28 countries happened. And now there’s a boom! So, here we go, my pick of the five must-see statues in Prague.
The Head of Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis)
Definitely the most famous of the lot, this one truly is a marvel, a blend of technology and art. There are 42 moving layers that rotate in a rhythm so that the head appears to have turn left, right and back to the front, all within a few minutes. It’s a huge sculpture and when you stand before it and ponder, mostly on Kafka, and probably Cerny too, the world appears surreal. Located in a small street, before the alternate entrance of a posh shopping complex, surrounded by a few trees and cutouts dedicated to Kafka, this one has a life of its own. A very worthy tribute to the genius of Franz Kafka, who, while dying of starvation and tuberculosis, wouldn’t have imagined this spectacle 90 years after his death.
Location : Quadrio Shopping Centre, Metro Station Narodni Trida
You can check out a video of the moving head here.
The Hanging Man
Trust me, we had no idea of this statue until we reached Prague. It’s not famous with the usual tourists but we found it in a local blog and decided to go see it. Aided by Google maps, we kept wandering around the old town square, and couldn’t find the statue when we reached our destination street. I was probably expecting it to be visible from afar and not too high up. But it was, on the contrary. I looked up and had to crane my neck to spot the statue right in between two high buildings, and was it scary! I could see a few tourists around me who assumed it to be someone committing suicide for real.
This is David Cerny’s representation of Sigmund Freud. Since Freud suffered from many phobias including his own death, this statue depicts his constant struggle not to commit suicide. I have to say, this is the most weird-ass statue i’ve seen till date. I didnt know Freud’s birthplace was in Frieburg, a city in today’s Czech. Don’t miss it if you’re in Prague.
Location : Stare Mesto, near Old Town Square
Memorial for the Victims of Communism
If you roam around the Prague Castle and Mala Strana (lesser town), you might just spot this little monument at the base of the Petrin Hill. It is a monument by sculptor Olbram Zoubek in cooperation with the architects Zdeněk Hölzel and Jan Kerel. It features a staircase before the flora starts on the hill and there are seven statues that descend. The statue on the lowest stair is of an entire man and as you ascend, their torsos disintegrate in parts and at the end, barely standing. The bronze statues are haunting and actually make you think about the history of Czech and the communist rule that ruined most of the country. This monument was installed in 2002, about 12 years after the fall of communism in Czech.
There are benches and flowerbeds around, so you can sit there for a few moments and pay homage or just give a thought to so many people who were victims.
Location : Ujezd bus stop, Mala Strana
Memorial To Franz Kafka
Well, Prague is the city that boasts of Kafka all around and this statue is by sculptor Jaroslav Rona. He is known to be working mostly on Kafka and his stories. This statue is before the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the city. It’s in the old town and the once victimised Jewish town is now transformed into a posh shopping street. This statue was installed in 2003 and shows a headless and handless man who is carrying a small man on his shoulders, as if it were father and child. The small man is a representation of Kafka. It is based on a story by him called, Description of a Struggle.
The statue is beautiful, and has a brazen look, looks very stout.
Location : Intersection of Dušní and Vězeňská streets, in front of the Spanish Synagogue.
Finally, another weird and funny statue by David Cerny. It is actually a fountain installed in 2003. Located just before the Franz Kafka museum, it shows two men peeing on an enclosure in the shape of Czech Republic. Their pelvis moves in slow motion and the stream of water from their penises write quotes from legendary Prague residents. If the viewer sends a text to the number shown next to the sculptural grouping, the figures will write the message. It’s unique and funny, if you take it in the right spirit, just for fun. I think mostly kids enjoy the sight and for large groups of tourists, this is a breather between the tedious castle tour and other sites.
Location : Franz Kafka museum, Malostranska
You can check out a video of the peeing fountain here.
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