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King Give Us Soldiers, Zsolt Bodoni

Installation view at Green Art Gallery, 2013

Zsolt Bodoni’s work investigates the tools of power under various regimes through the prism of his own childhood experiences. The artist was born in Romania and later moved to Hungary. His paintings are based on his own memories of growing up under dictatorial regimes along with images related to other such regimes in history. By revisiting the past, the artist tries to understand how various ideologies and systems of control originated, and contemplates the long-term impact of social and political indoctrination. His work challenges long-held belief systems and questions notions of political, social and religious conformity. It provokes viewers to think about personal and collective preconceptions and mindsets that remain even after regimes fall. In his latest exhibition titled, “King Give Us Soldiers”, Bodoni focuses on the role of physical education and even childhood games as tools of power that inculcate in young minds a mentality of group conformity and discipline.

The show’s title comes from a painting depicting children playing a popular game of that name. In this game the children stand in two rows facing each other and holding hands. One by one the children from each row must try to break through the other row. If they succeed they take a prisoner back to their team, and if they fail they are held captive by the other team. The painting and the title of the show draw attention to the fact that this seemingly innocent and fun activity is actually a child’s first participation in an act of war.

“The main theme of this show is education, especially physical education in schools. I have done in-depth research on this subject, which includes sports and games and I am specifically concerned with the fine line that exists between these elements and the act of war,” Bodoni says.

Most of the paintings in the show feature people involved in group activities such as swimming, physical exercise, games, and events that encourage group conformity such as the May Day celebrations. The faceless groups highlight the undertones in our systems of education that can lead to the loss of individual identities and personalities.

The connection with the artist’s own childhood and the invisible power games that people are exposed to early in life is established through several canvases depicting innocent, smiling children playing together. The people in Bodoni’s paintings seem to be happy and energetic. But his dark palette, the grim, grey, industrial surroundings and the hazy look of the paintings suggest a different mood. The artist has used many layers of paint on each canvas and has deliberately not concealed the lower layers to create visual depth and to give viewers a sense of peeping into the past by peeling off the layers of time.

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