The Code of Presence: Belarusian Protest Embroideries and Textile Patterns
Since the fraudulent presidential elections of 9 August 2020, the Republic of Belarus has become a battleground between the women-led democratic opposition forces and the authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenka. Current forms of political oppression in Belarus make open public protest dangerous. This exhibition report highlights safer ways to express dissent in a dictatorial society by grounding it in the textile arts, collective labor, and participatory practices. “The Code of Presence: Belarusian Protest Embroideries and Textile Patterns” is a permanent digital exhibition that I curated in 2022 hosted by the University of Michigan Library. The exhibition features 12 textile projects created by professional female artists from Belarus, including the works of Rufina Bazlova, Masha Maroz, Varvara Sudnik, Anna Bundeleva, Nasta Vasiuchenka, Lesia Pcholka, Vasilisa Palianina, Dasha Sazanovich, Yuliya Tsviatkova and Da(r)sha Golova. The exhibition explores how Craftivism, a global trend in contemporary art associated with political activism, correlates with the artists’ perceptions of the country’s textile heritage. The purpose of this report is to introduce individual artists, their voices and projects. It is grouped into three distinct, albeit overlapping, categories: 1) individual craftivist strategies in Belarusian protest embroideries; 2) collective craftivist embroidery practices; and 3) traditional textile patterns in other media. Galvanized by the protests of 2020–2021, political artists’ embroideries and ornamental graphics emerged as a protest ritual of a new kind, igniting a powerful process of cultural heritage revitalization, and documenting the events of the protests, working with such themes as feminism, female labor, memory, and trauma.
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