From February 12th till February 22nd in Namur (Belgium) an exhibition of nine Belarusian artists took place successfully.
Anatoly BARANOVSKY, painting, Yury GAVRIN, painting, Vladimir ZENKEVICH, painting, Vladimir KOZHUKH, painting, Tatiana RADZIVILKO, drawings, Konstantin SELIKHANOV, drawings, Georgy SKRIPNICHENKO, painting, Dmitry SURINOVICH, painting, Vladimir SUTYAGIN, photos.
The exhibition organised by the joint efforts of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the Kingdom of Belgium and the Parliament of Wallonia has become the first act of cooperation between the two regions of Europe that, on the one hand, are geographically distant from each other and that, on the other hand, have much in common in the sinuosities of history and its cultural "fringe" character.
"Where is it - Wallonia?", the artists would ask, sending their works to the unknown country. "Where is it - Belarus?", the visitors of the exhibition (Namur?s hasteless inhabitants and guests of the main city of the French-speaking part of Belgium, i.e. Wallonia) would ask. The art action became the beginning of the cultural communications of the two European regions formed in the similar historical and cultural situation - on the crossroads of various influences. "Between Poland and Russia" were the first words of the excursions around the exposition for the curious Belgians. "Between France and the Netherlands, or to be even more exact - between France and Flamandia" were the words of explanation to the Belarusian artists.
France - impressionists. Flamandia - Rubence. What about Belarus? The only name that is known to an average European - Chagall. The exhibition?s title - "Chagall?s Successors" - sets the coordinates known to all, the reference point - both geographical and chronological. What happened in Vitebsk after Chagall left for Europe, having glorified the city for the whole world, is little known in Europe. The word "successors" in the exhibition?s title doesn?t mean a stylistic generality with Chagall?s works but acquaintance with what has been going on in this country after it has been isolated from the global art process.
The artists presented at the exhibition belong to different generations and directions of creativity - nine different persons. Behind this difference it is possible to see the context, real situation and its background. All presented artists are noticeable public figures on the general background of the art life in Belarus. The exposition that has united them represents a panorama, a certain cut of the situation that is not meant to be complete, but to give a representation of the existing tendencies. It is important in the situation when the informational and cultural isolation in which for the most part of the 20th century this part of Europe called Belarus has been, is not overcome yet.
During this "first acquaintance" the exhibition?s organisers decided to include photos by Vladimir Sutyagin who is rather unique among the artists presented at the exhibition as he is the only photographer among the black-and-white artists and painters. His works make a separate series, as though an exhibition in an exhibition. As an intro-duction, they antici pate works of the others, set for spectator?s frameworks of place and time, replies the question "Where is it, Belarus?", adjust us to the certain tuning fork of perception.
The names of the majority of Vladimir Sutyagin?s photos are those of ancient Belarusian cities - Kreva, Zaslauje, Navahradak, Polacak, Ruzany,
Tatiana Bembel , Director of the European Humanities University?s Gallery, Curator of the Minsk City Art Gallery of works by L. Scamialou.
Halsany... These are topo- and chronography of the country, its history - at times brilliant, but more often dramatic and even tragic. Residences of princes and kings? palaces, ancient parks and gray tombs... There is nothing left now from most of them, but the sound - name or echo. Poetry of ruins in Vladimir Sutyagin?s works paradoxically corresponds to the principles of exact photo-documentation. For many Belgians who know that the present princess of Belgium Matilda is an inheritress to the ancient Belarusian family of the Sapiehas, it was interesting to see the places belonged to the well-known magnate family. It was found out that the princess already has one of V. Sutyagin?s photos with the image of the ruins of the Sapiega's Castle in Ruzany.
Opening on February 11th the vernissage at the Parliament of Wallonia located in an ancient building of the end of the 17th century, the head of the Parliament Mr. Robert Colignon emphasised, "Get-ting to know a country, it is very important to know its political system and economic situation, but it is only possible to understand it through its history and culture." Mr. Colignon also spoke about importance of the language of art as a language of international communication and that the presented exhibition is witching the frameworks of the international contacts of the Parliament which delegation invited by the Parliament of Belarus visited Minsk in October 2003.
"Art embodies the greatest myths of humankind, tries to reply the questions that are important for all people," said the head of the Parliament of Wallonia, "therefore artists? works shouldn?t only be in museums - many people should see them, too. The Parliament of Wallonia is glad to give an opportunity of acquaintance with the works of such a high level of skill that are presented at this exposition."
The exhibition from Belarus has become the first art action carried out in the very building of the Parliament. The exposition was open for free visiting for only ten days. Judging by numerous responses and comments in mass media, such undertakings - to turn an administrative centre into cultural as well - has been a pleasant surprise for the Belgians. Though it is necessary to say that the Belgian administration?s interest in the fine arts is a tradition - the Parliament of Wallonia has a collection of art works for which it has bought one work from the Belarusian exposition. Members of the Parliament have chosen Anatoly Baranovsky?s picture "August Motive". Thin lyricism of landscapes of the master of the Belarusian painting, the oldest among the participants of the exhibition, his refined colouring and complex facture of the picturesque surface has drawn a special attention of the visitors of the exposition.
A considerable role in success of the exhibition belongs to its perfect setting. The glazed courtyard of the parliamentary building not only provided
maximum natural daylight ideal for perception of painting, but also allowed to create effective situations with artificial illumination during the twilight time.
When after the official part of the vernissage (at this time through the glass roof the very dark blue sky looked down at the audience) the bottom and top illuminations flashedwn at the audienceon part of, the public went delightfully overboard about it. Thus, it was a real holiday.
During the exhibition attended by many people specially interested in art, it was necessary to make vast excursus into the history of art in Belarus of the 20th century, saying that in Vitebsk by the virtue of the historical reasons the tradition of vanguard art was interrupted - already in the middle of the 1920s the Soviets lost their interest to avant guarde. The Viciebsk-based school UNOVIS (Creators of New Art) in which Chagall actively worked stopped its activity, and the leaders of the school and their followers emigrated. On the huge spaces of the Soviet Union, including Belarus, Socialist Realism, officially authorized heroic style, was called to glorify successes of the Soviet state. The idealized images of the Soviet life created under the total control of the "supervising and directing" Communist party made a striking contrast to the severe reality of the Stalin epoch.
Belarus was involved in the general stream of global changes that were expressed in the contents of its art life. Heroic propaganda cliches of the Socialist Realism in its formal stylistic sources were based on the academic tradition of realistic drawing and painting. Now the phenomenon of totalitarian art represents the most interesting material for reconsideration and researches. In Belarus where many remarkable monuments of architecture, sculpture and fine art of the Soviet epoch are created, this process is far from being completed.
Just like the official art of Nazi Germany, the Soviet art school was marked by a high level of professional skill in the set frameworks. In Belarus the system of training and education of artists was based on, first of all, the tradition of the Moscow and Leningrad schools that based on the experience of the Russian Academy of Arts with its classical methods. Officially the local school and tradition appeared with the creation of the Belarusan art high schools where graduates of the capital schools taught. Due to the effect of preservation, some art practices - from academic drawing to complex applied techniques - were kept in this space as the bisons in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha national park.
Like everywhere in the USSR, the presence of the rigidly outlined frameworks in the sphere of ideology which tool was art, generated alternative movements: underground art in Belarus has its history and heroes. But it is another topic.
The Belarusian Academy of Art where almost all the participants of the presented exhibition studied (besides, Anatoly Baranovsky and Vladimir Zenkevich have been professors at the Painting Department for many years) was opened in 1953, the year when Stalin died. With all its conservatism of the academic system, artists together with the set of classical art disciplines could receive here at least some fragmentary information about the global tendencies in the development of art - first, in the form of criticism, later - after the Khrushchev?s "thawing" - within the frameworks of some training courses, especially when in 1967, according to the Moscow instruction, the faculty of design was opened.
The practical, utilitarian and applied trade of the designer is what it was in the West, but in the Soviet country it found a shade of an aesthetic opposition and was also a chance to overcome the informational isolation and limitation of the official art education. One can notice it in works of the following generations of the artists representing a considerably more various spectrum of directions and styles of work.
At this particular time there was, on the one hand, a revival of interest to ethnic and archaic layers of the local culture (at the exhibition it was illustrated by Vladimir Kozhukh?s works), on the other hand, to local traditions of avant guarde, to forbidden names and images. During the epoch of the exhausting Socialist Realism students of the Belarusan Theatre and Art Institute and some of their tutors could quite legally discuss abstractionism, pop art and other heresies, mentioning Malevich and Lisitsky, Tatlin and Rodchenko, Vasareeli, Warhol and other persona non grata for the Soviet version of the history of art.
The final liberation took place at the end of the 1980s, right after Perestroika when informal associations of artists for the first time became a legal alternative of the state monopoly to definition of values in art. Their victory over the cultural and social space during that romantic period was covered with pathos of clearing. During the self-identification there were many different, basically spontaneous and short-lived, associations of artists and lots of independent art actions.
The process of integration of Belarus into the European cultural space is going on, and the exhibition of the Belarusian artists in the Parliament of Wallonia is one more step on this way. As a result of the work of the exhibition contacts that can promote development of connections between Belarus and Belgium in the field of culture and art have been fastened. Now the exhibition is moving across Belgium - in March and April it will be exhibited in Brussels, continuing to open our country to the Europeans.