Art for Guernsey and Chamber of Commerce boost relations between Guernsey and the Czech Republic with an exhibition and a specially commissioned artwork.
Art for Guernsey believes that art has the power to bring communities and nations together, and one of its key goals is to promote the island in a positive way. At the heart of this is Cultural Diplomacy, a soft power that includes the exchange of cultural ideas in order to foster mutual understanding. Chamber strongly promotes creativity and lateral thinking and has been a strong supporter over the years of Art for Guernsey’s efforts to positively enhance Guernsey’s country brand through culture.
Since July 2019, Art for Guernsey and the Chamber of Commerce have been building a relationship with His Excellency Mr Libor Secka, the Czech Ambassador – a journey which will culminate in an exhibition of artworks by Czech artists on Guernsey soil. Art for Guernsey is also honouring the legacy of soldier Jaroslav ‘Yardeskie’ Novak – who was killed in action whilst defending the island – by commissioning Guernsey artist Sally Ede-Golightly to create an artwork, partly inspired by great Czech artists Emil Filla and František Kupka.
Mr Secka’s first meeting with David Ummels, founder of Art for Guernsey and Head of External Relations at the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce, was followed by a meeting at the Czech Embassy in London and a cultural field trip to Prague, when Mr Ummels and other British curators were invited by the Ambassador to engage with a number of museum directors, national curators and artists, and meet with the mayor of Prague and the British Ambassador in the Czech Republic. Art for Guernsey conducted research to identify relevant historical connections between Guernsey and the Czech Republic, and in doing so became aware of the tragic story of war hero Jaroslav Novak.
In 1940 Novak sailed to Britain and joined the RAF’s Volunteer Reserve in the 312th Czech Squadron based at Fairwood Common. He made dozens of flights over occupied Europe and, on the evening of 14th May 1943, the Squadron launched an anti-shipping strike against reported E-Boats off St Peter Port harbour. The attack took place with 23 attacking Spitfires from both the 312th and 313th Squadrons, approaching Guernsey perilously at wave-top height. Upon seeing the incoming aircraft, the Germans raised the alarm and activated the flak guns defending the harbour. They put up a huge defensive wall of fire consisting of all calibres and colours, including machine gun fire. Despite this, the aircraft pushed home their attack on a convoy consisting of 12 boats. Novak made the heroic decision to deliberately take on the German guns situated on Brehon Tower, as they were posing a threat to his squadron. His Spitfire was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire, forcing him to make an emergency crash landing on the sea. Knowing that he could not avoid the crash, Novak’s colleagues radioed him: ‘Goodbye Yardeskie and good luck.’ He replied: ‘Goodbye boys, give my best wishes…’ The message was cut off, his last words no doubt intended for the young wife he had married just a few weeks earlier. Novak struck the water at speed; the sea was very rough that day and he was never seen again – sadly, his body was never recovered. He was 27 years old.
Further research carried out by Art for Guernsey led to a collaboration with Richard Heaume, Curator of the Occupation Museum, and the discovery of key memorabilia and artefacts connected to Novak at the museum, including a piece of his Spitfire and a transcript of his last words. Art for Guernsey has made a film in Czech and English, capturing the various stages of this project and the journey that Ms Ede-Golightly’s artwork will take. It will go on display at the Guernsey Chamber of Commerce then at the Czech Embassy in London, before being loaned to a major museum in the Czech Republic. Two of the Czech Republic’s most famous national artists will come to Guernsey to respond to Renoir’s body of work at Moulin Huet, which their national curator Mirek Ambroz calls the ‘Valley of Light’. The subsequent exhibition of the artworks produced by the Czech artists on Guernsey soil, alongside the original Renoir artwork whose recent acquisition was arranged by Art for Guernsey, is exciting news for the island.
David Ummels said: ‘When Libor and I first met at Chamber in July 2019, we felt immediately aligned about the role that culture has to play in bringing nations and communities together, and we quickly resolved to undertake an artistic project together, celebrating the friendship and the historical connections between the Czech Republic and Guernsey. This offered a superb platform for local artist Sally Ede-Golightly to showcase her talent and have her art displayed in a major international museum. It also created an opportunity to build invaluable relationships with many key curators, artists and museum directors in the Czech Republic that, I am sure, will bear strong artistic fruits in the future for Guernsey’s cultural offering. This project is a way to tell the Czech people, “We are your friends, we understand your culture, thank you for your friendship and we are sorry for your loss.” The Czech Republic is a country that is very strong in culture and art. They understand that art can be a formidable catalyst to achieve quantifiable and measurable goals and to strongly support a business development strategy. This is how they promote their country and they are a kind, intelligent and inspiring force that we should aim to emulate to positively develop Guernsey’s country brand.’