At its foundation, Voices From the Center is an oral history project that examined changes in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The project stemmed from my experience as a Fulbright Scholar teaching at the Academy of Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. Wanting to understand the impact of socialism on individuals and their outlook towards the USA, in relationship to my own experience growing up in the Western side of The Cold War, I had conversations with people about their lives before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Beginning as a simple practice in getting to know and understand my new neighbors, colleagues, and the country that I was living in, over time the exercise grew into a project as I realized the importance of documenting the stories that were being shared. Many of the participants, who ranged in age from 45 – 85, felt that despite the historical attention paid to life during communism, the profundity of their experiences was being lost to history. As the project continued over several months and ultimatley years, I traveled throughout Central Europe meeting and having conversations with people living all of the Visegrad countries, to get a more expansive view of socialism in Central Europe. The project also included conversations with former dissidents, communist party chiefs, Olympians, villagers, teachers, artists and people instrumental in the fall of socialism in Central Europe. I also talked with young adults, who had been children when the wall came down, about their views of life in the post-communist era. People from both groups talked about what freedom meant to them and had the opportunity to express their dreams, fears and hopes for themselves, their countries and the world. Together these conversations created a portrait of a people emerging from one political and cultural era into another. Material from Voices From the Center was exhibited in museums and galleries, libraries, as public art, and presented in public talks throughout Central Europe and the United States, as well as in the interactive website, voicesfromthecetner.net.
Through Voices From the Center Janeil Engelstad interviewed Central Europeans about life during and after communism. The material was presented in an interactive website, exhibitions, public art and public programs throughout Central Europe and the USA.
The Voices From the Center Website houses 30+ interviews with people living in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Over 20 people spread across 6 countries contributed to the production of this project.
The interviews are presented in English and the native language of the speaker, audio clips, photographs, music, art and a historical timeline are also a part of the project. Image: Slovak feminist, artist, academic and queer activist Anna Daučíková, photograph by Janeil Engelstad.
Voices from the Cetner included murals and transit posters. Image: Bus poster by Mariana Ribeiro referencing the Czechoslovak saying that much of history is hidden in drawer. Hviezdoslavova ul (street) was the site of the killing of a Slovak dissident by the StB, secret police.