Anniversary of Protests in Belarus

The euphoria is over. A reflection on the protests and the development of future scenarios for a democratic Belarus have started.

An interview with the artist and curator Sergey Shabohin on the anniversary of the protests in Belarus.

A year ago, mass protests against electoral fraud began in Belarus. Artists, musicians and writers began to take an active part in peaceful actions. Some cultural workers led the democratic movement in the Coordinating Council of the opposition. As an artist and curator, you have participated in a number of protest art exhibitions yourself. What has changed in your work over the course of the year, and where are critical Belarusian artists today?

I have an impression that a considerable number of artists have been forced to leave Belarus, mainly to Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Georgia, the Ukraine, Russia and France. While many, including myself, have lived outside the country for a long time, others stay in Belarus (often on principle), despite the risk of imprisonment.

The protest is constantly changing its forms. After the tragic climax with the marches of many thousands, which showed the face of civil society, a long and vital phase of methodical work now follows. Now the protests are about strengthening connections and networks of solidarity, changing mindsets, developing new strategies and tactics, collecting documents and evidence, and taking consistent or spontaneous steps towards victory to undertake by every one of us.

Those who have left the country are actively integrated into the growing diaspora that exists in every major city. They take part in organizing exhibitions, demonstrations and protests against the regime and reflect critically on what is happening.

Even those who previously avoided critical issues participate in the protest movement. Everyone I know personally is critical, and most of them believe in the victory that we, as many will admit, symbolically achieved last year. Now it’s about actually winning. Even if I have heard doubts about it again and again lately, in my opinion, the role of the artist in this protest can hardly be overestimated since it is clearly a cultural protest.

And there is still a lot to do. The events will soon grow distant, which gives us plenty of opportunity for reflection—rebuilding the country for the community after the victory is already in discussion, and many inspiring projects are being developed for the future.

How did you personally spend the last year?

Perhaps 2020 and 2021 have put us all in a new state: the world is changing due to the pandemic and new production conditions, and the protests in Belarus have had the most profound effects on all Belarusians. This year was an emotional rollercoaster ride for me. I miss my loved ones, and at the same time, I am working on works and exhibitions related to the protests.

Currently, I am creating a catalogue for the project “Social Marble: The Rise of Civil Society in Belarus.” During a 20-day stay in Berlin, I interviewed 14 significant contributors from Belarus about the reasons, symbols, features and plans of the protest. The result is an archive of opinions, a timeline and a protest glossary, which I consider to be very important as a document of contemporary history. The interviews capture all phases between the emotional highs of the beginning and the first major phase of the doubt. The archive, therefore, stores an idea of what happened for the future and contains many idealistic appeals that must be preserved and re-examined.

As a curator, I also designed exhibitions on the protests: first, a group exhibition in a Berlin bar entitled “BAR (Belarus. Art. Revolution)” and then, as part of a curatorial group, the largest Belarusian exhibition ever to be seen in the Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kyiv, entirely dedicated to the revolution in Belarus. And now we are also working on an exhibition catalogue, another document for the future.

What are you working on in the KALEKTAR project?

The revision of the KALEKTAR portal began even before the protests, and thanks to the foundation’s support, we are now intensively redesigning the platform. Maksim Tyminko, a well-known media artist and curator in Belarus, is currently programming a new version of the portal that will be a user-friendly tool and database for everyone. The portal will consist of two interlinked formats: an encyclopedia of contemporary Belarusian art and a publication page that includes the magazine “ART AKTIVIST,” publications on important works (“ZBOR”) as well as lectures (“FAK”) and archive material. The two elements, encyclopedia and publications ー, are completely in sync with each other. While it’s still a lot of work, we plan to launch the portal later this year. In addition, we work within the
Revision of our platform also at an international group exhibition in Poznan in the Domie art space, which will open in October 2021. The curatorial team for this exhibition includes Aleksei Borisionok, Vera Zalutskaya and Raman Tratsiuk. The documentation of the exhibition will also appear on KALEKTAR.

Sergey Shabohin in an interview with Friederike Brinks (Rönne Foundation), August 9, 2021.

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