Olaf Hanel

* 1943  †︎ 2022

  • "Even once, towards the end, he [academic painter František Antonín Jelínek] probably took offence. I was already making art quite seriously at that time, but he didn't know that. He thought of me as one of those who was going to his courses. So I dared to ask him what he would say to let me share a studio with him in Prague. He got pissed. He must have, because he didn't know anything about me, only that I went to his classes. He said, 'It would make difference if you were a graduate of the academy [of fine arts].' With that I couldn't help him."

  • "But that was after the death of my father, who, as I have already revealed, ended [his life] by committing suicide at the end of April 1945. That is, a few days before the end of the war. The explanation is simple, because he was quite high-ranked in the Kolben-Daněk factory in Prague. It was obvious that he was going to have a difficult time, so he chose his own way of dealing with it, because Kolben-Daněk, that was a German war industry."

  • "Because I once went to a Plastic People of the Universe concert. I don't know where, probably in Bojanovice or somewhere near Prague. Then about twenty of us were picked up and I spent 48 hours in prison in Ruzyně because I didn't have my ID in order. I didn't have a job or a stamp. Twenty people were taken away. Some were released and some were not. It was unpleasant, because I was with one of these younger guys, and he had been released from the mental hospital, so he could hardly stand it. It was unpleasant, Ruzyně or Pankrác [prisons], especially because you don't know whether they will let you go or not after 48 hours."

  • "Just after the Charter, that was perhaps the only bullying I have experienced. It was tough, but that was because at night I was going home, I lived in Malá Strana. An unlit pit appeared near Karlovy Baths, into which I fell and hit my ribs. It was painful and tottering, I barely made it home across the bridge. And at three o'clock in the morning cops came, woke me up, shouted at me to open. But I told them I couldn't because it was really hurting me. They dragged me to Bartolomějská Street for interrogation, threatened me, but indirectly. We had instructions at the time, we knew that we could refuse to testify. To say: I refuse to testify. So I said it and kept silent. They tried to find out something, but I didn't know much. They asked who gave me the [Charter 77 statement] to sign. I said I didn't know. I lied, but I refused to testify."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Lysá nad Labem, 09.05.2022

    duration: 02:43:07
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Lysá nad Labem, 24.05.2022

    duration: 01:20:42
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

After the signing of Charter 77 I was fed up with bullying, so I applied for asylum in Austria

Olaf Hanel in front of the Czechoslovak Embassy in Canada with a protest banner supporting the release of dissidents, 1989
Olaf Hanel in front of the Czechoslovak Embassy in Canada with a protest banner supporting the release of dissidents, 1989
photo: Private archive of Rostislav Šíma

Olaf Hanel was born on 21 January 1943 in Prague. His father, originally a German from Sudetenland, worked as a clerk in the Kolben-Daněk factory during the World War II and committed suicide at the end of April 1945, a few days before the liberation. Olaf, his siblings and his mother immediately moved from Prague to the Highlands to Světlá nad Sázavou, where he grew up and attended an art school run by the painter František Antonín Jelínek. In 1960-1965 he studied at the Pedagogical College in Pardubice, where he met many important people, for example Jan Steklík and a little later Karel Nepraš. At that time he also began to publish his first drawings in magazines. From the mid-1960s onwards, he created a number of land art events around Světlá nad Sázavou. In 1967-1971, he held the position of director of the Gallery of Fine Arts in Havlíčkův Brod, from where he had to leave after the onset of normalization. From 1971 he lived in Prague and established intensive cooperation with the Křižovnická School of Pure Humour without Wit, which marked the beginning of conceptual events, and organised a number of so-called patriotic tours. He first worked at the Army Film and later at the Construction Geology, from where he was dismissed after signing the Charter 77 declaration. During the Asanace operation, he was forced to go abroad and applied for political asylum in Austria, where he travelled in February 1979. He subsequently moved to Canada, where he lived and worked for almost another twelve years in Sherbrooke, Montreal and Toronto. As part of grants and scholarships, he undertook a creative residency in Scotland and his wire pieces of art have been exhibited in Canada, the United States, Argentina and European countries. In 1991 he returned to Czechoslovakia and worked as a curator at the Czech Museum of Fine Arts in Prague for almost twenty years. At the time of recording he was living in Lysá nad Labem (May 2022). Olaf Hanel passed away on November, the 29th, 2022.