“Was Yanka Kupala the wife of Yakub Kolas” — this blissfully ignorant question casually asked once by someone with a Russian (which else?) imperial background eventually laid the foundation for this collaborative project by Alexey Lunev and Sergey Shabohin. Kupala and Kolas, both prominent Belarusian poets, both male, both (presumably) heteronormative, most definitely were not a couple but the idea of the work that would queer of Belarusian classics sank in.
But speaking about the entirely imaginary queer history of a nation would not be fair without mentioning its real queer stories — and also its potential queer history, the one with the potential to reveal the blank spots left after decades of colonial and totalitarian erasures. And this is exactly what the artists do.
In Lunev and Shabohin’s new work specifically commissioned by the Barbara Baryżewska gallery in Warsaw, they daringly and nonchalantly set off to create a comprehensive utopian Belarusian queer archive. They playfully mix together real logotypes and drawings from the queer history of Belarus and appropriated and re-imagined within the local context key symbols of the international LGBTQA+ movement. On several large format sheets of tracing paper — but also in accompanying them photographs, assemblages, and objects — reality, fiction, and possibilities come together, overlap, unite in a weird palimpsest, a polyphonic, slightly disorganised, punkish choir always balancing somewhere between glossolalia and logopedic exercises.
Under other circumstances, this could have been a solid shadow archive of queerness in Belarus extending
simultaneously into several different pasts and futures, but artists intentionally refuse to play it seriously, they venture as far as to queer even the methods of archiving the queer. And the shadow archive suddenly opens into a carnival with pink feathers and glitter and everything you could expect from the grand Olympic gay pride in Minsk from 1980.
Which never happened, of course.
Or did it?