OFF-Biennále, Budapest’s largest independent contemporary arts event, was created in 2014 as an underground initiative and soon gained international recognition. Its mission was to rebuild the foundations of the Hungarian independent art scene and bring together contemporary artists and their audiences. They wished to strengthen the position of the independent local art scene and give a platform for public discussion about urgent social, political and environmental issues.
It seems to be a rarity nowadays, but OFF-Biennále never applies for government grants, nor does it collaborate with state-funded art institutions. The decision is both a political statement and a representation of the event’s devotion to the freedom of artistic expression.
The arts festival made its debut in 2015 and returned two years later in 2017. After a three-year hiatus, the third OFF-Biennále will take place this year in a hybrid digital form: it will combine offline and online guided exhibition tours with podcasts, videos and a publication.
Breath!, the slogan of this year’s festival, was inspired by the poem A Breath of Air! written by renowned Hungarian poet Attila József in the tense political climate of 1935. Although unintentionally, the slogan takes on new layers of meaning in the wake of the pandemic, the accompanying socio-economic crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement.
In such challenging times for art institutions, attending events like OFF-Biennále are more important now than ever – and it’s also shaping up to be a truly diverse and exciting festival.