Book launch

Eastern Sugar


Ilona NémethEastern Sugar, February 2021, edited by Maja & Reuben Fowkes. Design: Peter Liška

Join us for this special event marking the culmination of the international research project EASTERN SUGAR and to celebrate the launch of its interconnected publication, with artist Ilona Németh, editors Maja and Reuben Fowkes and respondent Ros Gray.

Eastern Sugar was the name chosen by Générale Sucrière and Tate & Lyle for their joint venture to acquire sugar factories across Central Europe after the fall of communism in 1989. This book takes as its starting point artist Ilona Németh’s long-term research into the history of sugar production in the region, from its beginnings in the early nineteenth century to the rapid decline of the industry in the era of peak globalisation. Contributions dealing with the social and environmental legacies of Caribbean sugar plantations situate the sugar histories of Eastern Europe within the spread of a monocultural system based on (neo)colonial extractivism.

Through critical texts, conversations, and artistic interventions, Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar restores complexity to the history of the Slovak sugar industry, and by extension the wider social and economic infrastructure of transition in Central Europe, while at the same time opening up planetary trajectories for postcapitalist alternatives.

The book is edited by Maja and Reuben Fowkes, and Ilona Németh with contributions from Edit András, Rado Baťo, Fedor Blaščák, Johanna Bockman, Kathrin Böhm, Anetta Mona Chișa, Cooking Sections, Annalee Davis, Maja And Reuben Fowkes, Ferenc Gróf, Dušan Janíček, Katarína Karafová, Peter Liška, Jason W. Moore, Ilona Németh, Michael Niblett, Raj Patel, Józef Rosta, Joanna Sokołowska, Olja Triaška Stefanović, Imre Szeman and Raluca Voinea

EASTERN SUGAR is an international, interdisciplinary, contemporary visual art project with a focus on artistic research. The project reflects the recent facets of European history through the case of sugar industry in Central Europe. By the means of artistic research, curatorial cooperation, creation of new artworks, five international group exhibitions, participative installations, public and educational programmes, and a comprehensive interdisciplinary publication the project investigates the ‘clearing’ process of the Central-European sugar production. Sugar can be understood as a metaphor for the notion of Europe and world under constant transformation. EASTERN SUGAR strives to bring attention to the history of the sugar industry in Central Europe and to place it on the global map of the story of sugar. While doing so, it considers the colonial impacts of the past as well as the present.

30 years after 1989, the project intends to reflect on what impact these changes had on the Central European countries and Europe as such – especially considering the economic conditions, the aftermath of the so-called wild privatisation of the early 1990s, the sudden shift to capitalism, globalisation and adapting to the rules of the free market, as well as rules and regulations coming with the accession to the European Union.

Taking the sugar industry in Slovakia as a starting point, a case study or a metaphor, Eastern Sugar invites us to expand the discussion and critical reflection of the impact of socialist and neoliberal economics in the countries of Central Europe and beyond. The impulse for this undertaking started through Ilona Nemeth’s research and associated exhibition at Kunsthalle Bratislava in 2018, which called to be broadened on an international scale.

Using the language of contemporary visual culture, Eastern Sugar aims to shed a light on the social consequences of past political and entrepreneurial decisions; to pose the question of responsibility; and to diagnose the roots of the present crisis. But most of all, this project intends to explore possibilities for a better understanding of such procedures in the present and their future consequences. It conveys a belief that by learning about and understanding of our common past, we are better equipped to take informed decisions which will impact our common future.


Ilona Németh, Eastern Sugar is published by Sternberg Press. Co-published by the Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Drinks kindly provided by the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in London; and diverse economies elderflower cordial courtesy of contributing artist within the book Kathrin Böhm and Company Drinks

With thanks to the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in London for support with this launch event.


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