A good tradition of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus is the presentation of the most striking and successful exhibition projects that took place in the museum, in its Magiliou branch “The Museum of Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya”. The exhibition “When We Were Children” was no exception. The exhibition will feature over 70 works of painting, graphics, sculpture, decorative and applied arts, photography of Belarusian masters of the 20th–21st centuries and the art of the 20th century Russian graphic artist Evgeny Katzman from the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus.
When we were children, the whole world was an open book to us. The trees seemed taller, the grass was greener, the ice cream sweeter... We created new worlds with the power of imagination. The sun, round like a ball and yellow like a lemon, flooded the sky and everything around us with its radiance. The moon plied thick clouds, like a ship cutting waves. We dreamed of travels distant and of countries unknown. Every moment we were heroes and discoverers of our own exciting lives and endless possibilities.
Images of children are a wonderful and inexhaustible theme of world art. Each era creates its own canon of the image of the child and gives its own exciting account of growing up. So, in the 18th century artists rarely depict children, and when they do, these images are predominantly class-based. Burdened from birth with titles and regalia, the offspring of rulers and nobles appear as small adults or “adult” children, artificially aged by artists. In portraits made by Sentimentalist artists at the turn of the 18th–19th centuries, children's faces, even with a smile on their lips, look frozen and unnatural. And the fashion for putting young children in dresses, regardless of gender, sometimes makes one wonder – is a boy or a girl in front of us? In the 19th century, Romantic artists begin to discover childhood, realising its uniqueness. But, despite the wide range of feelings shown – from smile and wonder to confusion and worry, their images of children are somewhat idealised. In the second half of the 19th century, many works have a denunciatory purpose: Realist artists demonstrate the insecurity and frailty of the children of peasants, of the urban poor and of the intelligentsia. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, art assigns one of the most important places to children. A unique “children's civilisation” was taking shape, with depictions of children permeated not only with touching love, but also with respect for a child as a person.
The exhibition project “When We Were Children”, using expressive images, illustrates the early life of a person – from birth to adulthood; that endless joy, love, hope, credulity, grace, playfulness and daydreaming so typical of a happy childhood. Belarusian masters of the 20th–21st century reflect their personal childhood experiences in their works and demonstrate the idea of childhood defined by the time when they lived and created, the time of the childhood of their own children. This is the world of objects, sounds, names and events that shaped the worldview of several generations. The thematic exhibition covers the period from the early 20th century to the first quarter of the 21st century – from a 1903 portrait by Yudal Pen to the 2019 sculptural composition by Volga Orsik, from the 1963 porcelain figurine by Mikhail Bialiaeu to the 1980s photographic series by Vadzim Kachan, mostly representing the image of the Soviet childhood in the 1950s and 1960s.
The “focus on happiness” and the sense of involvement in its creation became a characteristic feature of the war generation and of those who were too young to join the army, but still dreamed of going to the front. Therefore, the world of Soviet childhood became a reflection not only of the real life, but of the ideology as well. It was filled with new social types such as the pioneer, the nurse, the pilot, the border guard, etc. In the 1950s, a new generation grew up whose representatives were no longer contemporaries of the Great Dream era (1935–1940) with its naive hopes and enthusiasm. These children witnessed the echoes of the recent war, the fight against everything foreign and the emergence of exciting technical innovations. The children’s world of these years was “triple”: the family, the school and the yard. The very concept of a “yard” was a category of consciousness, a certain reserved territory, which included not only the yard of the house, but also the way to school, adjacent lanes and double-exit courtyards, the schoolyard. This “country” was inhabited by significant figures that defined the boundaries and the ideals of being: friends, the prettiest girl, the bravest boy, the tall thin old man, rumoured to be the “vet”, the decorated old soldier with an accordion... Social and pedagogical directions contributed to the unification of adolescents, their enthusiasm for doing things together. Schoolmates and young lovers had similar interests and aspirations. In winter, ice-rinks were the meeting point and the dating place. In the summer, the dream world moved to the countryside and pioneer camps. The announcer’s voice orchestrated the life there, calling for morning exercises – hence the orientation towards cold water treatment and healthy way of life from the young age, as well as metronomic strikes against the asphalt of skipping rope, the girls were jumping over with skill and fun, hopscotch, “gorodki”, football, hockey... The mosaics of everyday routine had clear outlines, the life was plain and comfortable.
The Belarusian Soviet school of fine arts was based on the best achievements of art of the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The artists, with their excellent draughtsmanship, skillfully convey the form and colour, continuing the traditions of the realistic school. Artists are unconditionally in love with their models, which is why the children depicted are touching and intimate, with characters and aspirations of their own, with their own inner worlds and moods. Everything in the works is permeated with love and warmth, a sense of happiness and optimism, hence the sonority and brilliance of colours, the light and smooth fluidity of forms. The masters managed to reflect the children’s unique enthusiasm and joy, their fascination with life, not be carried on to adulthood with its anxieties and worries.
The curator of the exhibition is Anastasia Karneiko, senior researcher at the Department of Belarusian Art of the 20th–21st centuries of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus; co-curator – Volga Charniauskaia, senior researcher at the branch of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus “The Museum of Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya” in Magiliou.
The exhibition will be on display
from September 1 to December 3, 2023