Based on the essay published on Consequence Forum.
I have always been drawn to beings that move. Birds, fish, seeds, fallen leaves: creatures of peregrination and displacement. For almost twenty years, I have been traveling from country to country, unable to settle. My own journeys have impacted my art: I strive to create a harmonious whole out of elements from different mediums, cultures and contexts. How do diverse pieces fit together? Can they belong, despite the trauma of expatriation? Can they feel whole?
I come from an artistic family. My grandfather painted large-scale works but passed away before he was able to build a name for himself as an artist. My other grandfather, orphaned at the age of three, once took his grief-filled rhymes to the acclaimed poet Yakub Kolas. “There will be no true poets in your generation, for you are the children of war,” the venerated Belarusian told him. When archives were made somewhat accessible, our family learned that it was not the Germans that killed my grandfather’s father but the Soviet state. It was easier to blame the outside enemy, and it still is.
When I was six or seven years old, my parents took me to the chairman of the national artist union in Minsk. I remember feeling so intimidated by his dark, wintry paintings that I did not pick a brush for years to come. The gray hues, in which my native city endures, are explained by centuries of its unfortunate history. So long that a mindset of impeccable grayness has been formed: blend it or – literally – flee for your life. Barely out of school, I found myself in London where I spent my twenties. I was practically living in museums, thirsty to fill the void of what I had not seen. London helped me form a new outlook. It taught me that art can be a celebration of life and creativity. Lightness to hold on to in the midst of darkness.
In 2013, wanting to belong, I returned to Belarus. The city of my childhood was starting to feel cool and fresh, Berlin-like. For the following seven years, I lived between Minsk and Athens, Greece, juggling very different fragments of life: art, poetry, overwork in the tech sector, and the demands of new motherhood.
It all came to an abrupt end in May 2021, when in the midst of a huge political crisis in Belarus, the regime landed an international plane to arrest a journalist. My American husband and I got on the last flight to Europe before the borders were shut down. When Russia attacked Ukraine, we were already in the US. The war changed everything...
There is a poem by César Vallejo, translated by Rebecca Seiferle, that has become my polestar. “And in this frigid hour, when the earth / smells of human dust and is so sad, / I want to knock on every door / and beg forgiveness of I do not know whom, / and bake bits of fresh bread for him / here, in the oven of my heart . . . !” Since February 2022, I have produced more work, both artistic and literary, than in all the years prior.
In collage, you fragment and recombine. This is what makes up my identity, and it is what I do with my art. I follow the material, torn and fragile, to a harmonious whole. Despite all the dark foresight, I hope the destruction of the war will be over soon; that the peace will break in unexpectedly, like a ray of sunshine over a bombed dome: a triumph of humanity, time to collect, rebuild and heal.