The Code of Presence: Belarusian Protest Embroideries and Textile Patterns

Curated by Sasha Razor


The curatorial team and artists involved in this digital exhibition condemn the unprovoked and unjustified military assault on Ukraine by the Russian Federation, which started on 24 February 2022. 

In the wake of the women-led uprising of 2020, Belarusian women artists have responded to the ongoing challenges of the past year and a half with a substantial corpus of protest embroidery and textile-inspired mixed media artworks, drawing their inspiration from recent trends in Western contemporary art but also grounding their practice in the nation's rich folk heritage. These participatory embroidery practices have provided safe avenues for women to express their political views in the face of protest eradication, total oppression and a community recomposed by mass emigration from the country. Now, the sociopolitical crisis that began during Belarus’s failed revolution of 2020 has been further exacerbated by occupying Russian troops, who use Belarusian territory as the launching pad for military aggression against Ukraine. 

The Code of Presence: Belarusian Protest Embroideries and Textile Patterns is the first major exhibition to bring together twelve textile projects from Belarus, uniting such movements as craftivism and cyberfeminism alongside traditional textile arts. The title polemically alludes to the seminal work by Belarusian philosopher Valiantsin Akudovich entitled "The Code of Absence: Basics of the Belarusian Mentality" (2007), the foundational text explaining the difficulties in articulating Belarusian ethnic identity. Contrary to the concept of "I do not exist," which is widespread among predominantly male Belarusian intellectuals, this exhibition designates lines of presence through what are often described as "traditional women's practices" or textile “craft” often excluded from institutional art hierarchies. Moreover, our curatorial intention is to break the traditional discursive bond between textiles and the study of ethnic nationalism in the region by focusing on women’s voices and labor, and expanding the discussion to include a spectrum of civic identities in Belarus. In this context, the code is not only what is commonly referred to as the textile code of Belarusian cultural heritage, but also the painstaking process of coding diverse civic society in Belarus, and the multiple interconnections between textiles and their representation in digital media. 

The exhibition is organized in three sections: Craftivist strategies of Belarusian protest embroidery, Collective embroidery practices, and Traditional textile patterns in mixed media. Its aims include articulating protest messages, documenting the events of the revolution, processing news and emotions collectively, embracing traditional folk culture in the midst of social upheavals, and reflecting on the realities of life under authoritarian regimes. The latter category encompasses a variety of social and gender experiences, including those of women. Curatorial selections span the experiences of millennials and Generation Z across geographical boundaries and reflect the recent migrations of endangered cultural workers and artists from Belarus. This is the first time this group of artists is featured in a digital exhibition dedicated exclusively to textile art.