A variety of approaches to contemporary photographic thinking and research blend seamlessly with classical portraiture inviting the viewer to peek behind the Western veil of silence about Belarusian visual culture and photographic tradition. For many of us, Minsk which is only about 1000km away from Berlin, as is Paris, could have been on another continent.
What causes us to think of one culture as familiar and another as exotic? Be passionate about one and put another one in a box? Looking and knowing beyond the stereotypical image of Belarus, or what mass media are presenting merely as yet another failing state on the map, or Europe’s last dictatorship, feels even more pressing now that we know what the actual situation in Belarus is: mass protests and political prisoners in the hundreds, silencing of the media, beatings, kidnappings and torture of civilians.
And while all this is happening, we again seek solace in art. It is this new generation of Belarusian artists who have gained the power to encapsulate and translate the ambivalence of historical silence into tangible works of art. For many of them, reflecting upon the past often means reimagining and rebuilding the broken dialogue with their own history. It is remembrance work out of an utmost necessity. And it seems that recuperating and examining the missing parts of collective memory oftentimes exposes the deliberate censorship of the present. Indeed, it is in the uncertainties of interpretation and the disjuncture between past and future that hope for transformation exists.
Additionally, the processing of history through the Belarusian artist’s subjective standpoint proves invaluable. Because currently in Belarus the personal is political to a much higher degree than elsewhere in Europe.
Historical traumas, past and present ongoing political conflict and subsequent journeys of displacement are if not directly depicted, then continuously reflected upon. Intimate connections between private and political become starting points for dealing with memory.
KVOST and EEP, two Berlin-based organizations fostering the arts in the Eastern European context, present this exhibition which houses curators Maya Hristova and Jewgeni Roppel’s research into Belarusian visual codes of remembering and structuring knowledge. Unfolding in the form of generational dialogues through the photographic medium, the presented research will hopefully result in a deeper understanding of the multidimensionality of the contemporary Belarusian photographic context through the vision of some of its main actors. And female artists who in their work manage to transcend their personal experience of living through a decisive moment of their country’s history.
Kate Smuraga . Nobody Important, No One Else
Growing up, moving on and dealing with change – “When I meet my old friends, I suddenly see very clearly the changes that have happened in us, the transformations, the quiet and subtle movements of the tectonic plates within ourselves…”
In the project Nobody Important, No One Else, she explores the elusive state of time and the individual – the moment when the present becomes the past; that very degree of the past’s presence in every moment of the “here and now.” With a mixed sense of dread, anxiety and determination, she looks at people close to her and things that surround her. For her, photography is a means of exploring the personal boundaries of “home” and to determine what exactly about her and her loved ones can remain unchanged.
Smuraga (born 1990 in Vitebsk, BLR) graduated 2014 from Saint Petersburg State University of Culture and Art (RUS) with a focus on art history, theory and criticism. Currently she lives and works in Warsaw (PL). She received the new generation PHM Grant in 2014, was a finalist at the Grand Prix, Fotofestiwal Lodz (PL) and was nominated at PHOTOVISA.
Tatsiana Tkachova . Vera’s Seasons
“A little girl Vera Zenko from Volozhin was chasing the cart, where fascists were taking away her pregnant mother, – and they took pity and threw her off the back of that cart.” Vera is 92 now, she calls her life “the last seasons” and recites her biography through what’s inside her wardrobe.
The wardrobe of Vera from Valoshyn in Belarus is elegant and unusual. For photographer Tatsiana Tkachova, Vera took the clothes of her life out of the closet once again. The fabric from which Vera’s story is woven is permeated with traces of happiness, but also of sadness. She likes to dress up and dress extravagantly. The clothes she wears are as varied as the facets of her family history.
Tkachova is an independent journalist working with documentary photography, video, archive, and multimedia. Originally hailing from the Mogilev region (BLR), she is currently based in Minsk. Tkachova graduated from Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts with a Degree in Cultural Studies in 2014, and from the Academy of Documentary Photography and Photojournalism, Fotografika, in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2016. She teaches photojournalism at the Johannes Rau International Education Centre (Minsk, Belarus), The Belarusian Association of Journalists, Minsk (BLR). She is a recipient of World Press Photo 2020, and others. Tkachova works with Belarusian and foreign media, including Takie Dela, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, De Volkskrant, Meduza.io, Esquire.ru, Ostpol.
Oksana Veniaminova . White Dress
Photographer Veniaminova set out to focus her graduate-degree work on the theme of women’s memory — particularly, “recollections that are purely feminine and can’t appear in a man’s head.” Then she narrowed the theme to recollections associated with weddings, a monumental event for women in her native Belarus. “The marital state serves as an indicator of a woman’s success . . . so each item connected to this gala day has a very special meaning, even afterward,” she said. “The wedding dress, the veil, the icon used during the ceremony, the bouquet and so on are shrouded in myth, awe and superstition. Popular belief endows the wedding gown with a mystical power to preserve a happy marriage forever and prescribes keeping it.”
Veniaminova (born 1986 in Vitebsk, BLR) has attended the School of Portrait and Analogue Photography in Minsk, and she has studied documentary photography at the St.Petersburg school of photojournalism and contemporary photography DocDocDoc. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, The Calvert Journal, The Guardian and others.
Lesia Pcholka (born 1989 in Borisov, BLR), founder of the VEHA Archiv, is an artist and researcher. Since 2012, she has been deeply involved in the contemporary photographic scene in Belarus. In 2013, she founded the first charity store in Belarus “KaliLaska”, which she managed until 2016. Since 2017, she is the artistic director of the socio-cultural initiative “VEHA”, which works with photography by Belarusian-Archives and the history of everyday life. Since 2020, she is a lecturer at the European College “Liberal Arts” in Belarus. The exhibition will show a curated selection from the VEHA Archive.
Vasilisa Palianina . Larisa
The project Larisa is an attempt to process and redefine the relationship and feeling with her grandmother with memory images, illustrations, animations and a projection to process and redefine.
“In August 2018, my grandmother Larisa passed away. After her death, a new phase has formed in the relations between us. She started coming to me in restless dreams. When I came to Smorgon and spent weekends with her, we had no conflicts or quarrels. There was also no fear and insecurity. Now, along with the beautiful memories, there is a sense of Fear and confusion. This is a project about my grandmother, her presence, about living a new phase of time without her and with her.”
Palianina (born 1986 in Minsk, BLR) works with the medium of photography, illustration and makes performance. In addition to various artist-in-residencies, she was a resident at the artist group “Slavs and Tatars” in Berlin in 2020.