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Tamás Urbán: Unwanted Butterfly

TEMPORARILY CLOSED!

On view:
March 05, 2020 –April 05, 2020
Every day 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Closed on public holidays.
Capa Center
Curator: István Virágvölgyi

Please note that the exhibition includes disturbing graphic content. Visitors under the age of 18 must be accompanied by adult supervision.

Unwanted Butterfly spent half of his 40 years behind bars, so he had plenty of time to have his whole body tattooed. He was an unusual sight in Socialist Hungary, comfortable both in the prison and in the Budapest underground scene, doing gigs with the famous band Sziámi in the Black Hole alternative club, drawing, painting, creating puzzles, and writing a journal. Photojournalist Tamás Urbán met him in 1988 for the first time, in the Csillag Prison of Szeged, Hungary. The exhibition presents a selection of the photographs taken in the following six years – until Butterfly’s death in 1994 – as well as of the objects and documents collected by Tamás, and of Butterfly’s journal.

Butterfly | “My name is Pillangó, the Hungarian Butterfly, but my real name is Ferenc Deák. Not the national hero, the so-called wise man of the nation, more like the national felon.” Butterfly was born in 1954, in Budapest; as he writes in his journal: “I was born on January 1, just like Sándor Petőfi, only somewhat later.” His parents were blue-collar workers, but his father left them when he was five – “even before that he would liquor up frequently, the guy must have been quite a jerk.”

At six, he already smoked, in fourth grade, he was put into juvie for the first time, and by the age of 15, he was already convicted by a court. “Not a big deal, I got one year in a juvenile detention center. But I took off of Szőlő Street already on the third day. They captured me, took me back.”

He spent most of his adult life locked away: he did a total of almost 20 years for fraud, burglary, prison break, prison riot, violence against law-enforcement officers, illegal border crossing, vehicle theft, vandalism, forcible criminal trespassing at night, racism, sexual assault, and violence causing life-threatening injuries. He was out of place among the inmates with his instinctive intelligence and creativity: he wrote poetry, he designed crosswords and board games, he did drawings and paintings. He tattooed himself, and the butterfly was put on his forehead in 1978 – “I got ten days in the hole for it.”

From the series Unwanted Butterfly © Urbán Tamás

He was not only a popular eccentric adored by women, but he had the power to stop traffic in the Socialist Hungary too: when Butterfly showed up, he would be always stared at on the streets. “Many would yell at me all kinds of things from the car. I got so used to it that I really couldn’t care less.”

He was invited to the Friderikusz Talk Show (which was recorded in a community center at that time), and he was a regular at the underground Black Hole club, where he would be on stage with the popular underground band of the time, Sziámi. The occasional songwriter Butterfly, stripped down to his underwear and presenting his yoga moves perfectly polished in prison, was an excellent spectacle – until he was expelled from Black Hole. Butterfly, who would give the finger to everyone, rejecting and even spitting on any kind of system or convention, would not fit – not even there.

In 1994, at the age of 40, he tried to swim plastered to the small Danube island, Népsziget, and back. He actually made it there, but then his body would only turn up a few days later, at the foot of the Chain Bridge.

“Some keep banging on about the time when I grow old. About what I will do then. Nothing, I say, I’ll never be old anyway. I’ll always be young, and I’ll die young.”

From the series Unwanted Butterfly © Urbán Tamás

Tamás Urbán | It’s difficult to tell which is more peculiar: the subject of Tamás Urbán’s photographs, tattooed from head to toe, or the fascinating trust, and their friendship, which is delineated in the images. First, I only saw his photographs, and only met this jovial and nice man in his seventies, Tamás Urbán, later. I just couldn’t put the two together. I assumed he must have changed tremendously in the past three decades. But this is not what happened. His images depicting the just released Butterfly, spending half of his life behind bars, show mirrored reflections, glimpses of a younger version of the Tamás Urbán I know, with his freshly laundered vest. So, what was it that still connected Urbán with Butterfly, nine years his junior, whom he met in the Csillag Prison of Szeged in 1988, working on a larger project?

One can find the answer merely by looking at the oeuvre of Tamás as well, but during our work together, it became evident for me that their common denominator was the rejection of conventions. He was intrigued by uncommon themes already at the beginning of his career; he would prefer photographing those marginalized by society for Ifjúsági Magazin, Stern and Blikk as well. At the time of the 1987 gigantic snowstorm, he would move to the emergency headquarters for days, so that he could join the crew for the calls. At the beginning of the 1990s, he would be there at every accident scene for years, with his specifically transformed off-road vehicle, often even before the first respondents would get to the scene. Also, he would also not organize exhibitions in galleries, but in the Nyugati Square underpass, accompanied by coffins, and his oeuvre is not stored in a museum but in the Fortepan online photo archive, freely available for all to use.

This is complemented by his passion for categorizing and collecting, which allows us now to present Butterfly’s journal, dagger, his self-made immersion boiler and binoculars, his prison cards, drawings, documents and even his self-designed jerk-off-machine. His prison collection is astonishing. When the sewerage system at the Márianosztra prison was set up, and he returned home with the last prison bucket, his wife would chase him out of the flat; this is how his mobile “prison museum” was established in the trunk of his Dacia.

From the series Unwanted Butterfly © Urbán Tamás

When Tamás set off on a subject, he would jump right into it, curious of every detail; he was not someone just to scratch the surface. He took all the time and energy that was needed for the work, focusing on the subject with his entire being; this is how Butterfly’s story is delineated so sharply. As Butterfly writes in one of his letters: “For Tamás, photography is like ink was for me. An obsession. He is an obsessed photographer!”

He decided to publish the Butterfly story three decades ago, but it has only been reported in fragments, in the form of newspaper articles. This is the first time this rich material of 2500 frames (!) photographed on black-and-white negatives and color slides, along with almost 300 pages of manuscript, about 100 objects and 150 drawings are presented, striving for completeness.

István Virágvölgyi, curator

 

From the series Unwanted Butterfly © Urbán Tamás

 

The Capa Center publishes a catalog as well, with the support of the Archive of Modern Conflict.

The exhibition was supported by the National Cultural Fund Hungary.