Home Away (2015)


“It’s not enough to have talent, you also have to be Hungarian” – said Robert Capa, one of the most famous Hungarian-Americans.  Inspired by his words, seven young photographers set out on a journey to survey the Hungarian community in New York in September of 2014. The idea of the project came from Zsuzsa Bakonyi and Zsófia Pályi, who received a grant for their fieldwork through a cultural grant application announced by the Hungary Initiatives Foundation.

Is the attraction of the American dream justified in the capital of the world? How did Hungarians get there and do they still speak their mother tongue? Do grandchildren understand the words of their grandparents? Do they suffer from homesickness and what do they miss the most from home? Which home? Have they adapted themselves, have they been assimilated or do they remain “average Hungarians”? And what are Hungarian scouts looking for in the wilderness and what are Hungarians looking for in New York?

The final works consisting of their photographs, videos and texts were shown in an exhibition at the Budapest Capa Centre for Photography (December 2014 - January 2015) and a limited edition artist book.

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The United States – or, as it has been referred to as at different times with essentially the same meaning, “Ámerika,” “Amcsi” or “US(h)A” – has been carrying the promise and the threat of ‘escaping’ from East-Central European conditions in the Hungarian consciousness since the late 19th century. It is a promise of a better life for the individual, but a threat to the community, since its most enterprising members have the highest chances to leave. This ongoing process of – like it or not – nearly a half century has created a new world:the Hungarian America, which, shrinking and expanding by itself at times, has most definitely taken its place on our mental maps based on the narratives of those who returned and those who stayed there. How can we make this over-mythicized, larger-than- life world to be human again? 

How can we replace the closed narratives – citing examples of the Hungarian genius who founded Hollywood and harvested Nobel Prizes, the eternally exploited and abused Eastern Europeans and the other suspiciously familiar stories which are applicable to everything– with an open narrative which invites us to think and have a dialogue? The exhibition shows the individually created works of artists with a common objective in mind. The most impressive feature of these works is their lightness in the way they surpass our rusty legendary about America. These photographs also tell stories of escapes, unfolding success and desperate effort, as well as a great deal of self-justification sometimes. However, what we see is a fresh, breathing and contradictory material, with assimilation and identity preservation, breakthrough and stagnation, the most radical Americanization and the wildest Hungarian nationalism side by side in a single story sometimes. Only recently found and chosen via an almost improvised methodology, the subject finally becomes visible without any pathos or over-explanation now from immediately seven viewpoints. 

Gergely Romsics, Balassi Institute – Hungarian Cultural Center, New York

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