I am a photographer, teacher, and activist with over twenty years of practice. I live in Budapest. My work as a photographer examines the history of the recent past, analysing the role of media and archives in democracy, as well as gradations in the communication of freedom and propaganda. As a photographer I have been documenting important actions of resistance of the Hungarian opposition since 2011, attending demonstrations and capturing the details, commemorating the human story in them.
With my peripatetic documentary work, I chose to support important civil movements and political demonstrations. These are actions of citizens whose campaigns in any democratic country would appear in the media and the news. For a decade now, in Hungary, this is no longer the case. The freedom of the press has been gradually curbed, and by now the means of communication for those who disagree with or criticise Orbán’s government are much restricted. As an artist-activist, I, therefore, use social media to share my work with the wider public with the intention to facilitate democratic social change.
As you may have heard on the BBC, since 1 September the students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts have occupied the building of the university, as a way of protesting against the government’s anti-democratic move to suddenly privatise this 155-year old school and, despite the objection of the university’s senate, hand it hastily over to a private consortium which has open links to Orbán’s government, thus abolishing the university’s autonomy. As a protest against this anti-democratic and unprofessional appointment, which gave uncontrolled power to the consortium, the whole senate of the university has resigned, and several eminent teachers (renowned artists) have also left the school.
This is the main school in Hungary where generations of eminent theatre and film professionals are trained. Do you like István Szabó, Béla Tarr, Kornél Mundruczó or Ildikó Enyedi’s films? Do you admire Tamás Ascher, Árpád Schilling, or most recently STEREO AKT’s theatre productions? Did you see Alexandra Borbély or Zsófia Szamosi at the Oscars? They too are SZFE (this is the Hungarian acronym for the school’s name) alumni. In fact, some of these artists were also teaching there. The list could be continued but I guess you can imagine now what is at stake.
The student’s takeover of the university on the day when the new leadership was supposed to enter the building was brave, creative, and inspirational. It was a non-violent action, which is now symbolised by the red and white roadblock stripes which the students used to wrap the main entrance.
The demonstrations started over a week ago, on 1 September, and since then for every day the students organise a new event (concerts, performances, performative actions) to voice their dissent and demand their right to the autonomy of the university and democratic and ideology-free education. Their movement has gained support: other universities, theatres, and civil organisations both in Hungary and abroad came to express their solidarity.
On Sunday, 6 September the students decided to send a message to the Parliament and organised a demonstration, a political performance. The plan was that students, alumni, and civil supporters would form a live chain from the school gate to the steps of the Parliament (socially distanced by the aforementioned red-white roadblock stripes, and wearing masks and gloves) and they would send the community of the university’s Charter about the freedom of education through this chain mail to the house of Parliament. According to the organisers’ calculations, they needed 5000 people to form this human chain.
On the day of the demonstration, there were not only 5000 supporters, but tens of thousands of people came to be the students’ allies to send this message of freedom to the Hungarian Parliament. So the Charter went from hand to hand, in which the students declared their basic and inalienable rights, stating that:
„the university is an autonomous institution, and for it to fulfil its mission, of creating and transmitting values of culture, it must be independent of any kind of political, economic or ideological power.”
At the moment there is no stronger and more important voice of dissent in Hungary than the resistance of these students, future artists of Hungary. In front of our eyes they are writing history.
For me, who was a student, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the change of the regime took place in Eastern Europe, these young people’s stand up for their freedom gives hope. It is important for us to protest against the centralisation in every field of the arts and culture, against any kind of authoritarian leadership.
The demonstration last Sunday was one of the most powerful demonstrations I have ever documented as a photographer. Every moment of it was uplifting. That’s why I decided to share those moments with you here, through my pictures.
A photo journal of the #freeSZFE demonstrations, Budapest. Photography: Gabriella Csoszó.
Gabriella Csoszó is an award-wining artist, photographer, teacher, and activist. Her work examines the history of the recent past, analysing the role of media and archives in democracy, as well as gradations in the communication of freedom and propaganda. As a photographer, she had over thirty exhibitions (both solo and group) in Hungary and abroad, including galleries in Berlin, Braga, Gratz, Hannover, Lisbon, New York, Prague, Sarajevo, Stuttgart, Vienna, and Warsaw.
In 2000 Gabriella founded a complex contemporary photography education program (Kontakt Fotóművészeti Kurzusok) with the goal of helping to process social and political issues through the means of photography. One of the many projects of the program was the Photography and Activism course for homeless activists.
Since 2011 Gabriella has been documenting important events of the Hungarian opposition and has been sharing those images on FreeDoc. Since 2016 Gabriella has been teaching photography at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.
Gabriella Csoszó – Photo Albums
These photos can be used by non-profit organisations royalty-free with the permission of the author. Please, contact me beforehand if you intend to do so.
To find out more about the #freeSZFE demonstrations, please visit the social media site of the university’s students’ union, the organisers of the movement:
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.