Ildiko Dobranyi Foundation
 
Edit András: The Spirit Behind the Renaissance of Tapestry
There is no doubt that the connecting of contemporary Hungarian tapestry art to contemporary tapestry art in the world at large has been due to Ildikó Dobrányi’s understanding of the scene and her tireless and selfless work as an organiser. It was she who was the inspiration and motor behind the rise of the tapestry genre in Hungary around the turn of the new millennium.
Ildikó Dobrányi stood head and shoulders above those she represented in that she had a valid vision relating to the tapestry community and the tapestry genre and had the strength and energy to realise it. She understood exactly the workings of the artistic world and that the individual artist could not achieve a breakthrough alone, in other words that he or she could achieve only partial and very limited successes in this way. She knew, accordingly, that the genre had to represent itself and find prestigious opportunities, moreover in an international context using international methods and involving international experts. She was a maximalist: she wanted only the best of everything: exhibition spaces, juries, book designers, translators. And she was indeed effective, assembling a high-quality team around her. Her faith radiated through to others also.
Hers was a generous personality, and her ideas, too, were on a big scale. She set as her goal nothing less than the setting sail of Hungarian tapestry art, which looks back on a great tradition and is professionally accomplished albeit historically marginalised, on international seas. She sensed a fitting historical moment, in national and international connection alike, and took direction into her own hands. She kept her hands on the wheel until the very last moment. She knew full well that without her the ship would become a phantom ship, prey to petty, personal interests, which would of course lead it astray into uncharted waters. She was a visionary figure and she saw this clearly. Like the captain of a real ship, she was a rock-solid character, hard and unyielding: compromise was unknown to her in her thinking. All those even remotely touched by her in any phase of her ambitions plans, all those with whom she came into contact, she swept off their feet with the charm of her personality and her penetrating sense of purpose. The movement which she created, the phenomenon which is hallmarked by her name, the exhibitions, the catalogues, and the successes achieved internationally, all rest on these foundation stones: on her clearness of vision, on her personal management of affairs, on her timely reactions, and on her complete lack of opportunism.
At the ‘KÁRPIT’ exhibitions, Hungarian tapestry art appeared in an international context as an equal partner, a status not really enjoyed by other genres in Hungary, including the traditionally ‘high art’ genres (painting, sculpture) not struggling with identity problems, not to mention those assigned to the applied arts category. Ildikó Dobrányi broke with the nepotistic socialist cadre practice of delegating artists to exhibitions and introduced the institution of an independent jury based on professionalism along with the judging of works without knowledge of their authors’ names. This drove the stale air out of the field at a stroke. This radical step naturally produced an opposition consisting of those whom the earlier practice had suited and those who, made conceited by success, were under the illusion that recognition and exhibiting at a high level were theirs as if by right.
The international press applauded the change as a revolutionary act, interpreting it as a sign of a changeover in the arts in Hungary. The ‘KÁRPIT’ exhibitions staged at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts were analysed as such in the international specialist press, the most important international forums of the genre, and artists and specialists visited them from all parts of the globe. The ‘KÁRPIT’ exhibitions initiated by Ildikó Dobrányi grew into an institution which even today serves as a standard in the international arena. As a result of the ‘KÁRPIT’ exhibitions and her promotional activity, articles have appeared in European, American, Canadian, and Australian specialist publications on contemporary Hungarian tapestry art and on the activity of the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists (ETN Textileforum, American Craft, Shuttle Spindle and Dyepot, The Washington Post). Such presence internationally is almost unprecedented for any other art genre in Hungary.
Ildikó Dobrányi saw the Association as an interest group also, and opened its doors to members whose professional views differed from her own, to weavers with no artistic qualifications, to those who came from other fields (textile art, graphic art), and to those who designed tapestries which were then woven by weavers hired for the purpose. In the light of later developments, this democratic stance rebounded on her, since these two border areas strongly eroded the philosophy she represented, namely the symbiosis of artistic activity (design) and realisation (weaving). In the interests of maintaining a community spirit and giving work to a broader circle of artists (and perhaps the preventing of a spilt), she supported a community path, too, by securing commissions for large-scale works to be made collectively (the ‘St. Stephen Tapestry’ and the ‘Corvinus Tapestry’). Her long-term plans to bring tapestry back into architectural spaces she was unable to realise.
She regarded as very important the high-level documenting of artistic events: both ‘KÁRPIT’ exhibitions were accompanied by bilingual catalogues containing studies by experts in the field. Unique among its kind, a high-standard monograph, likewise bilingual, was devoted to the genre itself; this, too, is connected to her name. Organising and staging two large international exhibitions with juries and catalogues, one foreign group exhibition, a monograph and, additionally, community tapestries represent, in ten short years, an unrivalled achievement.
Enormous amounts of Ildikó Dobrányi’s energy and time were taken up by organisational work, applying for funds and drumming up support. Led by professional conviction, she undertook this for ten years, and without remuneration. Her organisational work meant that she had to give up a great deal: she scarcely had time for her own work and for the writing of her Ph.D. thesis. There was always something to be done: an exhibition, a protocol visit abroad, the organising of joint works, the book… This was despite the fact that she was one of the best tapestry artists.
It was not jealousy that caused her death, as it did Arachne’s in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but a lethal illness which, in the midst of her feverish work for the community, she did not notice in time. However, jealousy and pettiness did embitter her last days. As she faltered a little, these forces gathered round. She believed passionately in the cause, which she represented without compromise and literally to her last breath. Fortunately, she was a sufficiently large personality to be unaffected by the accusations, but the disrespect deeply hurt those around her. In the eyes of her supporters and admirers, the achievement which she took to the end was greater than this, since her path was not an easy one. She chose the revolutionary, pioneering path, in the interests of the genre and future generations. She was clear that the way would be uneven and full of pitfalls, but professional conviction and her toughness caused her to forget the difficulties. She always set before herself the distant objective, the almost impossible, thinking in the long term and in big steps, thus not noticing what an enormous journey she was making. Admittedly, she was not alone: she had associates, too, whom she was able, through her happy and magnetic personality, to convince that was she represented, the order of things, could only be done uncompromisingly. And she did it and no-one around complained. It was from this, too, that there stemmed what in retrospect was an almost incredible thriving, which in turn was able to mobilise a very great deal of creative energy.
Even at the time of the ‘KÁRPIT 2’ exhibition, Ildikó complained of severe pains in her back, but did not wish, even for a moment, to neglect the organising work. In this way, when she did find time to go to a doctor, her illness was already in its last stages. Her life was more important than any tapestry or exhibition. I would see it thus without a thought, but she did not. This seved as some consolation for those seething souls, who were unable to reconcile itself to her early departure. She was an extraordinary personality; with her death a glorious period in the life of the genre came to a close.