A Journey Through Childhood With Petr Sís

By Sarah Duchêne—Anglo American University

Let Petr Sís, the Czech illustrator and writer of children’s books, guide you across his universe in the exhibition “Peter Sís: On Flying and Other Dreams” at the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art.

His drawings will put stars in the eyes of both children and adults who visit this exhibition, which is a retrospective of five of his most famous books, divided in separate rooms to transport you into different worlds of his imagination.

Petr Sís is internationally known for his children’s tales, but behind these stories are hidden deeper messages that will resonate in hearts of any age. His stories are also not always born from his imagination, since some reflect his own life’s journey and particularly his childhood, growing up in Prague during the 1960’s. While he is constantly dealing with his complicated past, present, and future in his books, Czechs relate the most to his early life.

The first room in the exhibition at Dox is dedicated to the book In the Conference of the Birds which is inspired by a Persian myth. It tells the story about birds who are looking for their true king, Simorgh, hidden in the mountain of Kaf. After a perilous journey, the birds that reach the mountain learn a profound lesson; their search is related to the meaning of life.

Visitors then continue their journey through the second room with The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Far from a mythical story, this book reflects the actual childhood of Petr Sís, which was unfortunately disturbed by the Iron Curtain.

As a child, he quickly understood that freedom was only a dream in Czechoslovakia. He started to draw the whole story of his country, with carefree quotes and drawings, but strong feelings. He always felt as if he would never be able to do what he truly wanted because of the Communist regime. Although he was deeply impacted, his father, a filmmaker, and his artist mother allowed him to experience more freedom and even to travel in this complex era.

He emigrated to the USA, and began living New York City in 1982, then he received his American citizenship in 1988. Since The Velvet Revolution, however, he now constantly returns to his native city and first home, Prague.

In the third room, the book The Three Golden Keys retraces the story of Sis’s life as an adult, who comes back to the city of his youth and rediscovers all of his memories in this city that looks almost like a fairy tale.

His inspiration, once again, comes directly from his feelings towards where he grew up. Visitors can feel the strong bond between his adult life and his childhood, which has had a deep impact on all of his stories.

The next room is possibly the most “childlike” one, based on his book, Robinson, which is also a memory of his boyhood. His mother who was an artist, designed for him a costume of Robison Crusoe for a party at school. But his friends, who were all dressed up as pirates and expected that Petr would be as well, made fun of him. He was so disappointed that he left the party, and dreamed about an adventure on an island, where he found a companion. The illustrations in the book are made to make you feel as if you were dreaming, and it works.

The last room on the main floor of the exhibit tells the story about Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the famous creator of The Little Prince. Petr Sís’s book The Pilot and the Little Prince pays tribute to little Antoine, who wants to be a pilot. The illustrations, similar but not identical to The Little Prince, celebrate one of the most loved stories in the world.

Beyond these five rooms, the exhibition includes a series of works that have been hidden for years in Petr’s childhood house in Prague, finally exposed for the first time. This contains Diaries which are collages that bring together pieces of travelling, illustrations and postcards. Petr Sís describes them as “mysterious notions about unreachable destinations from the time before the internet when everything was possible.”

The exhibition “Petr Sís: On Flying and Other Dreams” offers a unique perspective of the magical universe of his children’s books. It is truly an exhibition that will transport you, no matter your age, into another world, full of adventures, freedom, dreams, and even more….

The exhibit closes on 20.01.2020.

For more information, visit the website

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