Minsk

Minsk through the looking glass

As any art historian will tell you, during the first 15 years or so after the October Revolution of 1917, any forms-of art in the Soviet Union, including that in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic as Belarus was known from 1920 onwards, was notable for its remarkable experimentation. From around 1932 onwards however, when both art and the people who produced it were put under the direct control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, all creative output destined for public consumption was forced to conform to the narrow and politically dogmatic requirements of Socialist Realism. Art became a political tool, and the people who made it became heroes. The incredible Minsk Art Factory is an extraordinary legacy of this period. Founded in 1947 on the site of a former windmill, it was from this mid-boggling ensemble of buildings that every major artistic project carried out in Minsk, including almost all the remaining Soviet-era works of public art that can be seen in the city today, was produced.

An incredible collection of studios and workshops churning out everything from stained glass to metal statues to huge monuments carved from stone, the ‘factory’ grew over the years to include every conceivable creative activity, housing, as a memorial plaque on the outside of one of the buildings testifies, many of the country’s leading artistic names. Independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago saw an end to its state-financed activities, although far from closing down the Minsk Art Factory has spectacularly reinvented itself. A number of its original inhabitants alongside some newer additions can still be found working here, applying their amazing range of skills to less political ends and creating some wonderful works of art along the way. Intrigued by what was going on inside, we dropped by recently as part of a larger adventure visiting a wide range of artists working in Minsk today and visited three different workshops.

Igor Barkhatkov

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