From the other side. In memory of Ales Pushkin
On July 11th in 2023, a well-known Belarusian artist, actionist, gallerist, political prisoner died in prison intensive care. Especially for has prepared a review essay about the most significant works of the artist.
Ales Pushkin. Photo: Siarhei Mikhalenko ©
already from the very beginning of his artistic journey followed Leonardesque approach to life which he talked about more than once — an all-encompassing master, proficient in all available means of mass communication, unafraid of new challenges, and themes, who turned his vital activity into a Gesamtkunstwerk (a singular work of art) that became a myth during his lifetime. It's enough to briefly mention the range of interests and fields where he demonstrated himself: painting, church monumental art, gallery activities, restoration, ethnography, poetry, theater, performance, political activity and activism, national movement, prison art, documentation and video.
An artist who traversed his civil path from a Soviet soldier in Afghanistan, while remaining a Christian, realized the significance of national culture and the potential of the national liberation movement. He was a political activist, subjected to repeated repression for his activities, serving prison terms and enduring rights limitations. On July 11th in 2023 he died in a Grodno prison or, more accurately, was tortured.
Contradictions and opposites.
His work is intricate, composed of various elements, possessing its own artistic logic and not always easy to understand. An embodiment of contemporary and traditional approaches and perspectives within one individual. How can these contradictions be overcome? How to say goodbye to the traditional idea of the picture of the world and find new forms of artistic expression?
This figure, like our Belarusian society itself, is incapable of reconciling the contradictions of historical legacy — a place where pseudo-conservatism merges with modern technologies, where ideological normalcy is schizophrenic discourse, but absurd art isn't embraced. This ideology of algism has led us to the tragic state of war, with its hostage logic of annihilation and murder.
Ales Pushkin on Freedom Day in Bobr, March 25, 2017. Photo: Janak Kouzel ©
So, here is the figure of Ales Pushkin: as an artist and a citizen, an example and a mirror of our country.
In this theater of life there's a resemblance to theater of the absurd. It's said that a true artist must be a good actor, capable of playing various roles. And if you look through this prism considering his creative journey many things fall into place.
If we examine his overall project, where life and art are intertwined and personality, image and identity work towards myth, everything coalesces into a unified whole. Even his name, 'Алесь' (transcribed as Ales in Latin), sounds almost like 'Alles' in German, meaning EVERYTHING. And he long stepped out of the shadow of his famous Eastern namesake, regardless of the jokes made about it.
We know precisely how Ales positioned himself and how he was perceived by the community and what brought him fame — it was political art. He managed to harness what others often try to distinguish. This is a very complex and unpopular stance in any country, at any time. There's a great deal of struggle even in the formulation and intersection of politics and art, transcending the realms of philology, philosophy, sociology, and craftsmanship. And right here, he succeeded in crossing boundaries, expanding territory and remaining authoritative. And then, in a rarity for Belarus, he managed to become renowned and popular.
Through his image he personified the engine of paradoxes, setting the wheels of art in motion. Periodically, explosions resonated like thunder were responding through the media waves that made him the most prominent artistic figure in Belarus.
Anyone who embarks on the path of political art will inevitably find themselves comparing to his figure. Ales quite literally paid with his life for his artistic stance, reaffirming that art is a radical exception.
From the Past
Canvas, author's blood, 200 x 100 cm
My personal favorite is the work of the radical gesture , which has long held its place in the pantheon of Belarusian art, yet still lacks representation in a contemporary art museum, a gap that is quite telling for a country like Belarus, or rather what is more accurately described as vague through this.
It's a very simple and understandable piece, yet it holds many levels of interpretation.
The author took their own blood and applied a red stroke through a vertical white two-meter canvas by hand.
The first and most understandable layer for every Belarusian is the reading of the national symbol, originating from the legend of a wounded warrior who created our national white-red-white flag with his blood. And in this, the traditional, political, national Pushkin.
And certainly there are clear connections to Viennese Actionism and the bloody mysteries of Hermann Nitsch. In parallel, it refers to a religious context, Christian iconography, fetishization of relics and the glorification of sacrifice and martyrdom.
However a more relevant could be the dimension associated with the John Cage's question: "Is it a flag or a painting?". Here we have a very rare case in Belarusian art, even to this day — a dialogue with American abstract expressionism and minimalism. With action painting, with this aspiration for liberation in both artistic and political senses. This coincided with the atmosphere of "perestroika", the opening of new scopes and possibilities.
Despite the modern aversion to heroizing individuals, Ales's figure and his aspirations were directed precisely along this divert. Barnett Newman once commented on his work: "A person reacts to another person physically. Moreover, there is a metaphysical thing and if the meeting of people has the significance, it affects their lives." In my personal experience, that's exactly how it was. The title of this work, as well as the echoing with it simple features of Vir Heroicus Sublimis (Man, Heroic and Sublime) , could easily become a characterization of Ales Pushkin.
A Gift to The President 'For Five Years of Fruitful Work!'
Minsk, Karl Marx Street 38
120 x 90 cm, metal, dung, paper, acrylic, posters, pitchforks, handcuffs, money
is one of the most famous actions of contemporary Belarusian political art.
It’s an example of a direct artist's appeal to the highest political authority on equal terms. It illustrates how the expressive language of art triumphs and remains in history. This action changed the discourse and perhaps even an era in modern Belarusian art marking the transition from the times of partisan strategies to activism.
The conversations and contemplations that took place in the late 1980s about the Joseph Beuys' concept of social plastic bore fruit and political art became clear and expressive.
The action was a response to events in the country, including the end of President Lukashenko's first term on July 20th in 1999. The artist, with a cart loaded with manure, went to the square in front of the president's residence and dumped its contents onto the asphalt, placing millions of devalued rubles, a revised Constitution and an election poster depicting Alexander Lukashenko on top of it, securing them with pitchforks on top of the pile and accompanying it with a banner reading Five Years of Fruitful Work! At the bottom of the cart was a poster from 1995 with the red-green flag of the Republic of Belarus, which became a symbol of the regime and Soviet reconstruction, relating to a dramatic turning point in the country's recent history – the 1995 referendum, after which the national state symbols were abolished: the white-red-white flag and the Pahonia coat of arms, while the Russian language gained the status of a state language.
Ales Pushkin was detained almost immediately. The court sentenced him to two years of probation and five years of deprivation of rights. Seventeen years later, in 2016, after the exhibition "" held at the Foundation Isolation in Kyiv, Belarusian customs confiscated a photograph of the action along with 23 other authors' works displayed at the exhibition. The court deemed the work extremist.
As if rewinding the film of life backwards...
I still remember those times when Soviet education didn't provide clear terminological answers and artists didn't always realize the difference between performance and action. But for Ales not only his art but also his life truly presented like a performance. Perhaps his education at the theater and art institute influenced this, or maybe it was his own character – someone capable of acting and shocking, turning reality into a spectacle. By the way, during the times of the Soviet Empire's collapse this behavior was reminiscent of the theater of the absurd. We know about his passion for theater and his numerous scenographic works. This is why his presentations sometimes retained theatrical, decorative traits, where grotesque intertwined with romanticism, and his created image as an artist in an embroidered shirt and cowboy hat with a feather was also present.
However, in 1989, during his , which might better be called a happening, that romance was not there. Everything was simple and clear for a ex-soldier who had recently returned from Afghanistan, for whom the necessity of building a new independent country became the goal of both his art and his life. On March 25th in 1989 he prepared 12 posters for a student march in Minsk commemorating the proclamation of the Belarusian People's Republic (BNR). Holding a megaphone and displaying two posters with the texts: "Citizen. On this day 71 years ago, the Belarusian People's Republic was proclaimed. Remember and think about it! Long live independent Belarus!" and a poster with the crossed-out flag of the BSSR (Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) labeled: "Enough of the socialist – let's revive the People's Belarus", the plan was to march along the entire Independence Avenue with several hundred of students. However, he was quickly arrested and sentenced to 2 years of conditional imprisonment and a loss of rights for five years.
Later more trials and punishments would follow:
"In 1999, the Leninsky District Court of Minsk, presided over by Judge S. F. Khripach, once again sentenced him to 2 years of conditional imprisonment for the performance Gift to the President, which involved a cart of manure as a gift for the usurper of the highest state power, A. Lukashenko. He was characterized as engaging in "persistent hooliganism with a particular cynicism."
On September 7th in 2001, the Krupovskaya District Administrative Commission, in accordance with Article 172, Part 3 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus imposed a fine of 37,500 rubles for distributing various self-adhesive stickers to local children in Bobr against the election of A. Lukashenko in the 2001 presidential elections.
© Ales Pushkin: action Soldier of Fortune, 2001
July 8th, 2002 – The court of the Moscow District of Minsk, presided over by Judge Nadezhda Ravutskaya, sentenced him to a fine of 1 base amount according to Article 166 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for the performance on Independence Square (formerly Lenin Square) in Minsk.
March 21th, 2006 – The Krupskiy District Court, presided over by Judge Olga Vasilievna Khoma, sentenced him to 3 days of arrest and a fine of 1 base amount according to Article 156 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for refraining from doing anything during the 2006 presidential elections.
September 12th, 2007 – The Orsha District Court, presided over by Judge Tatyana Alexandrovna Rybakova, sentenced him to 7 days of arrest according to Article 17, Part 1 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for protesting against the police crackdown on the Bard Song festival at Krapivny Field near Orsha. This field was where the historical victory over the Muscovites took place on September 8, 1514.
May 3th, 2008 – The Krupskiy District Court, presided over by Judge Alexander Nikolaevich Sis, imposed a fine of 25 base amounts (equivalent to 400 US dollars) under Articles 23.34, Part 1, and 23.4 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for hanging up 5 birdhouses and flags (national white-red-white and European Union) on the central square of Bobr to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic [similar was in 2011].
December 9th, 2010 – The Krupskiy District Court, again presided over by Judge Olga Vasilievna Khoma, based on Articles 17, Part 1, and 23, Part 4 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus sentenced him to 13 days of arrest based on a fabricated administrative case of hooliganism, to prevent any actions during the upcoming A. Lukashenko's presidential elections.
September 24th, 2012 – Judge and Chairwoman of the Smorgon District Court, Lyudmila Rygoravna Petrova, sentenced him to 10 days of arrest under Articles 23.34, Part 2, and 23.4 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for marching with a portrait of 21-year-old Belarusian patriot Rastislav Lapitsky, who was wrongfully executed on October 28th, 1950 in Molodechno.
December 5th, 2012 – Judge Marina Sviatoslavovna, a deputy of the Leninsky District Court of Minsk, sentenced him to 12 days of arrest under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Offenses Code of the Republic of Belarus for submitting a complaint to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus with a portrait of 21-year-old Belarusian patriot Rastislav Lapitsky, who was wrongfully executed on October 28th, 1950 in Molodechno.
© Ales Pushkin: actions of different summers from the Belarusian Resistance series, 2002–2014
October 30th, 2017 – Judge Natalia Anatolievna Vusik of the Krupskiy District Court imposed a fine of 5 base amounts (115 rubles or 57 US dollars) under Article 23.34, Part 1 of the Administrative Offenses Code for participating, along with his 13-year-old son Mikolka, in a procession through Slutsk with portraits of the heroes of the 1920 uprising and carrying a sign on the Day of Knowledge – For the History Lesson: "WE DO NOT ALLOW BELARUS TO BE DRAGGED INTO OTHER WARS".
November 1th, 2017 – another trial took place in Slutsk, where the Chief of the Slutske District Internal Affairs Department, Colonel Hereha, imposed a fine of 1 base amount, equivalent to 12 US dollars.
June 10th, 2019 – Judge Alyona Sattarava of the Krupskiy District Court sentenced him under Articles 23.34 and 23.4 of the Administrative Offenses Code to a fine of 204 rubles (100 US dollars) for the performance "POLITE GREEN MAN – AGAINST RUSSIAN AGGRESSION AND ARROGANCE", which I staged in defense of Belarusian sovereignty and language at the entrance to the Krupskiy branch of the EUROOPT trade network at 4:00 PM on June 6, 2019." .
Beatings of Ales Pushkin in 2020
In 2020, during the electoral events, Pushkin was beaten, he turned this into a performance by displaying bruises on his stomach, back and buttocks. The artist spent three days in Akrestsina detention center. He participated in almost all Sunday marches carrying an icon with him.
On March 30th, 2022 he was sentenced to 5 years in a high-security penal colony. The artist was found guilty of "deliberate acts of rehabilitation of Nazism committed by a group of individuals" and "disrespect for state symbols" due to a portrait of Yauhen Zhyhar from 2014, which was exhibited at the Center of Urban Life in Hrodna and for the 2021 action during the "" exhibition in Kyiv.
It could also be mentioned about many other performances from the Vitebsk period, where Ales Pushkin was directed after completing his studies in 1991: November 7, Vitebsk Behind Bars, Spring, , Love.
© Ales Pushkin: performative procession The Way of St. Josaphat, 1995
I was personally impressed by (November 13th, 1995, Vitebsk), which continued the traditions of religious mysteries and the Way of the Cross, entering both the urban space and interacting with the elemental forces of nature. "The performance refers to the history of Josaphat Kuntsevich – a saint and martyr of the Catholic Church who worked in a Uniate church in the 16th century on the territory of present-day Belarus. Thus, Pushkin has in mind the Brest Union, which was an event of bringing together the lands that were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Kuntsevich, as one of the defenders of the established order in the Union, symbolizes resistance against the Moscow authority. The artist, dressed in tattered vestments, opens the procession in memory of the martyr, carrying a papal cross. Along the procession route, people pour paint on Pushkin from buckets. The procession reaches the Dvina River – the artist takes his place in a boat, which is set afloat along with a burning cross" .
© Ales Pushkin: performance July Morning by Dzhokhar Dudayev, 1999
Anti-war performances wich are also remembered and remain relevant to this day: (September 9th, 1999, 1st International Performance Festival , , Minsk); (July 3, 2002, 6:30 p.m., Independence Square, Minsk), (May 10, 2001, III International Performance Festival INTERACJA'2001, Petrikov-Trebunalski, Poland). Already back then, Ales Pushkin could perceive the militaristic logic of imperialism and destructive violence. Perhaps that's why he embarked on a in 2015 together with Belarusian and Ukrainian artists to the front line in the Donetsk region of Ukraine in 2015 to witness the ongoing war with his own eyes.
Ales Pushkin: ArtOccupy action, Beaver, March 25, 2014. Footage from Andrei Liakhnovich's video ©
I can't miss the promotion (March 25, 2014, Bobr). Many years have already passed since the gallery , and it should be mentioned a little later, in fact moved from Vitebsk to Bobr and where it has already become a tradition for the artist to go to the central square of the township to celebrate Freedom Day, setting up exhibitions unde the old sign. The documentation of these events was included in the video "Art tut.by–2014". And while the video might sometimes appear lighthearted and even comical, like a comedic play like Compagno Don Camillo , then in fact behind the action itself there is a dramatic example of our civilization, humans resist machinery and techno-violence, striving to demolish art. There is even a famous painting by Ales , which he worked on for decades and which is already a long-lasting performance in itself. This action can even be compared with the famous Bulldozer Exhibition of 1974 , where the degradation of Soviet values reaches its apotheosis, transforming into postmodern irony and a mockery of the times of the "collective farm dictatorship". The Belarus tractor against the Pahonia – the historical coat of arms of Belarus, an iron horse against a painted one, a deputy against a citizen, authority against an artist. But here, it's no longer a laughing matter, it's not tragicomedy anymore; here, another theater and our ancient tradition of suppressed culture are more reminiscent. In the light of Ales's passing, Salamon Mikhoyels comes to mind, who was crushed by a dump truck in the yard of the residence of the Minister of State Security of the BSSR, Tsanava, in Minsk in 1948. Unfortunately, in our country, the letters in people's names change, but not the principles... Yet we know that it's precisely the act of destruction that creates a Hero. And just like nature, the collective memory can't stand emptiness.
sviáty i sviatý ('holidays' and 'saint')
To lighten the mood and take a break from the serious discussion I would like to mention something that may not be considered art in the conventional sense but is often referred to as the art of living. Here it's all about the same Leonardesque example – to do. Because those who rest well, work well. Those who knew Ales can't forget his ability to arrange parties. He's like the Kupala bonfire cooled down in dark water or the Christmas star warming in the candlelight snow. Walking into his house in Bobr, one would stumble upon the Belarus that could be printed on tourist postcards, where nationality and tradition aren't tarnished by folklore, but rather, through artistic and intellectual means, maintain a connection with the present, albeit in the provinces. In his case, it wasn't a modern play with neo-paganism; here it was more of a return to the lost tradition of feeling like the master of one's land. We know how hard it is to believe a Belarusian, always keeping the example of the "Orthodox atheist" in mind, who is pursuing Rome, with the word "paganism", and then there is the second, and there is the third. But in the end Pushkin somehow managed to avoid the Belarusian schizoid temptation by alternating between the church and the forest, eventually merging them into a common act where you could temporarily take refuge and find solace, to protect himself from the strikes of the state's mace, preventing it from setting everything ablaze.
But the heat remains on the ashes too.
Ales Pushkin. Holidays. Photo: Janak Kouzel ©
"Now I remember how I took a bath with Pushkin in his bathhouse in Bobr.
How we went outside and looked at the stars.
And how cosmically awesome it was.
"So much lay ahead for everyone…".
religious, traditionalist art, monumental painting
Painting of the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the township of Bobr
Ales Pushkin completed his studies in monumental painting at the . Since his student days he was involved in the restoration of historical buildings and church painting. His diploma work Parnat had already earned him recognition as a monumental artist and connoisseur of Belarusian culture. However, perhaps his most well-known monumental work became the frescoes in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the township of Bobr, his birthplace and where he lived in his final years.
This was a rather atypical choice for a contemporary artist – to settle in a deep province. Yet it was precisely here that he felt at home, in that authentic Belarusian rural environment, without detachment from the soil and folk traditions. Here he constructed his world. Every Freedom Day, he placed a symbolic dot on the central square, continuing the activities of his gallery U Pushkina by organizing exhibitions and events, and the ripples from this "thrown stone" spread far beyond the country's borders. But at this moment it's not about that.
Pushkin himself said about this project that it was his "most significant, monumental fresco in life". The artist worked on it in 1996–1997. Here he demonstrated, how within the framework of religious art can remain political, and a Christian can be a contemporary artist. In ancient times there was a tradition in frescoes of The Last Judgment to address current events, so here Pushkin placed Alexander Lukashenko and Metropolitan Filaret in hell among sinners in the company of special police unit. The critique and irony characteristic of our time could not go unnoticed, especially by ordinary people, let alone church hierarchs. That's why the church remained unconsecrated for a long time. In 2004, after a report by Russian television that sparked a scandal, the frescoes were whitewashed and on February 17th in 2011 the church burned down.
And if we view Ales Pushkin's work as of an activist, the circle will close.
Engaging in religious, traditionalist figurative painting might seem like a step aside and a departure from contemporary art. However, if seen as an attempt to take over someone else's territory, address a broad audience, create a "provocation" which, through media manipulation, gained a voice and disappeared as deconstruction, leaving only a verbal image of a "church in flames," then what can better reflect the drama of the shattered connection between humanity and God?
But at the beginning of the 90s there was a completely different experience and different intentions. New art in a new country required a different space. At that time the power pyramid had not yet been built, the young republic followed a parliamentary path, regionalism seemed natural for Belarus, and there was a feeling that the spirit of the avant-garde was returning to its source. On March 23th in 1993, Ales the first private contemporary art gallery in the center of Vitebsk, not far from , as a laboratory for experiments of the latest directions of modern art. Already in the first two years there were eight exhibitions of painting, graphics, sculpture, modern photography and plastic performance with the participation of young artists from different cities of the country whom Ales knew while studying at the institute. Most of the participants remain important figures for contemporary Belarusian art to this day: , , , , , , , , , , , .
However, the changes in the political course of Belarus, including presidential elections, referendums and the repeal of the 1994 Constitution have had an impact on the situation in the provinces and on the political platform of the gallery. This led to the opening of doors for the First Congress of Belarusian Nationalists . December 19th, 1995 marked the end for the space, but not for the institution which continued to work in various venues until 1997, symbolically concluding its activities in Vitebsk with the exhibition Biography.
Strange is our history, when the streets of our cities bear the names of conquerors and executioners. Peculiar metamorphoses also occur with people. Who could have imagined then that one of the first curators of the gallery – – after becoming the rector of the Academy of Arts, would end up on the sanctions list for repression against student protestors in 2020, and Ales will be beaten during the demonstrations and once again will be behind bars. This is our living history of Belarusian art.
Ales always dreamed of being a simple painter, creating canvases, still lifes, and landscapes – and indeed, he created many of them. However, life sometimes takes unexpected turns, leading individuals to enter history in offside, through different doors. Today we know that even a simple painting, a realistic portrait became the basis for the initiation of a criminal case against Ales Pushkin, which ultimately led to his death. That's why avoiding it is impossible.
Ales Pushkin with a portrait of Eugene Zhihar, 2014. Photo: Janak Kouzel ©
Portrait of Eugene Zhihar
From the series Belarusian Resistance
Oil, canvas, wood, cartridges
The series consists of several portraits of people with difficult biographies, "images of Belarusians in the war of 1939—1945 between the East and the West, between two totalitarian systems — Soviet and German".
Ales described them: "I seek out people with a genuine, characteristic Belarusian history, almost forgotten. Expressly forgotten by official propaganda with its servile colonial mentality".
At times, these individuals advocated for Belarusian independence through radical methods. Many consider the figure of Zhihar ambiguous, and indeed, he was. It seems to me that in choosing his themes, Ales is drawing on the method of the Belarusian literary classic Vasil Bykau, who in his works demonstrated how people during times of war transform from good people to traitorous and from varmints to heroes. Today, it would be relevant once again to read Liquidation and Dead Don't Hurt…
Works from this series were exhibited many times over the course of seven years, and marched together with the author through the cities of the country in actions, but only on March 22th in 2021 the main state newspaper of the country SB published a text entitled Portrait of a Traitor: How Nazi Criminals Are Heroized .
Ales Pushkin: Declaration, March 23th, 2021, exhibition "Every day. Art. Solidarity. Resistance", Art Arsenal, Kyiv. Photo: Andrei Dureyka ©
The prosecution accused the artist of "rehabilitation of Nazism" and initiated a criminal case. Pushkin learned about this in Kyiv, during the preparation of the exhibition "". Despite the offer from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to stay, he as a true activist made the decision to return to Belarus where he was arrested a few days later. On March 30th, 2022 he was sentenced to 5 years in a strict regime colony. The artist was found guilty of "deliberate acts of rehabilitation of Nazism committed by a group of individuals" and "desecration of state symbols."
In April 2022 Ales Pushkin was sent to the Wolfish Burrows colony. In the summer it became known that the political prisoner had been punished with five months in a solitary confinement cell. In the fall, the colony's administration decided to increase his punishment – he was transferred to a prison for one and a half years. At the end of last year he was transferred to Prison No. 1 in Hrodna. On the night of July 11th this year he passed away.
I won't delve into the biographies of the characters in his works. They can easily be found online .
We can easily understand why this series emerged precisely at this time. The context of time and place is evident. We sense a parallel between those distant events and the current occupation of Ukraine. We see how meanings are being overturned. We understand how our country's role has changed. How falsehood reaches the point of meaningless absurdity, how it is followed by plundering and ultimately, killings.
Perhaps that's why Ales approached this project very simply, without metaphors, without allegories – just portraits of people and their names. They speak from the past, but as if reflected in a mirror, they paint our present.
For artistic analysis the author's radical stance is far more important – his courage and responsibility for the work he's done, his conviction in the rightness of it and his struggle for truth. It's precisely the truth, not fake or imitation, just as all the truth surrounding his personality illustrates our terrible reality which name is war.
picture, prison album
What could be simpler and more direct than drawing lines on paper? Small children start with drawings. It's evident that this was first artistic experience for Ales. But it was also his last.
Probably many people received from him the book with a signature that he made the same for everyone, repeating like a mantra, changing only the name. "Andrei! Just not to prison!!! It's bad there...". For me personally, it has become a management for today's life. And although this cycle appeared back in 2012, it became clear to every Belarusian in 2020, when painting in prison, through which tens of thousands of people went, became a whole phenomenon and direction in current Belarusian art. But what distinguishes his from behind the bars to this day is the color. It will almost always be a color, even a too sweet color, on the border of kitsch, as if you are going back to school and recalling a cartoon or a comic. Even the words of the diary, or better to call it a dream book, are written in different colors, like dreams, like imagining the delights of a menu of dishes. Here, food and erotica intertwine, images of saints and portraits of the great, landscapes of the homeland and visions of new projects blur the lines between the political and the religious. It's all like a dream, a surreal reverie, a child's game, a coloring book – the only way to push away the horrifying reality of the prison into which our country has been transformed long time ago.
And how terrible it is to understand that the last article from this album was signed by another outstanding Ales, the Nobel laureate Ales Beliatsky , known to the whole world, who also ended up in captivity today.
signs of the times
Cross on the Belly
25.03 – 30.03.2022
Minsk City Court, Minsk
The last we currently know of (because perhaps with time, not only the artist's drawings but also the testimonies of fellow inmates will emerge) took place on the same significant day for his work – Freedom Day – March 25th, 2022. In prison, Ales Pushkin cut his abdomen in protest against his captivity and the 5,000 political criminal cases filed against other citizens. For this the political prisoner was sent to the hole for 13 days. His trial was held in Minsk City Court, where he was accused of rehabilitating Nazism and desecrating state symbols. During the trial he was dressed in his former work overalls with the inscription Belrestoration and he refused to go, requiring guards to carry him into the courtroom, where he lay on a bench in a cage with handcuffs on his wrists. On March 30th, during the announcement of the verdict, Pushkin undressed to reveal a carved-out cross on his body and thanked those present for their involvement in the action. Due to classified information the trial was closed, and to this day the final words Ales prepared on 23 pages remain unknown. On the same day, Judge Alena Shylko sentenced the artist to 5 years in a strict-regime colony, a sentence he will likely never complete to the end...
You can convey this gesture with folk words: "without sparing his own life."
And also, it can be understood by criminals in a country of crime with a prison interpretation: "this is a symbol of love for God, which led him to faith and even changed him for the better. For him, it's a token of gratitude and a reminder that every person is free to choose their fate, and where this choice leads depends solely on them".
words, conceptual art
"Simple words, simple things"
Exhibition "Every Day. Art. Solidarity. Resistance"
Art Arsenal, Kyiv
On March 23th, 2021 on the eve of Freedom Day and the opening of the exhibition at the Art Arsenal in Kyiv, while preparing a replica of his 1999 work A Gift to the President, the artist announced the Declaration.
A remake itself is a very rare thing for activism. That's why a declaration was needed, as an explanation of the context around his statement about the "cart of roses" and the author's stance both on the events of 2020 and his responsibility for his creativity and principles. Modern technology allows his last words to be heard, which attest to him as a modernist who believes that "art changes the world".
Ales Pushkin: "Today I remain with the same reasoning – the Lukashenko regime is a bloody regime. Roman Bondarenko was killed, Henadz Shutau was killed, and ten more people were killed. A captain of the special forces of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus, a military man, a Belarusian, dressed in civilian attire, shoots a father of four children in the back of the head with a pistol, Henadz Shutau, in Brest. That's why I stand by this reasoning. This is my Declaration. I still answer for this artistic act. And I believe that art changes the world."