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Masters of the Old Graphics: War Overshadowed Slavic Culture

On August 16th the “Skaryna Press Workshop” will be presented at the Energy and Technology Museum.

This year marks 500 years since Francysk Skaryna founded the first printing house in Eastern Europe in Vilnius and published the first book in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the “Little Travel Book” (1522). On that occasion, Belarusian artists living in Lithuania Sviatlana Petushkova and Andrej Shaporov restored the Skaryna printing press and created a workshop.

On Tuesday, August 16th, the museum invites you to the presentation of the project: at 5 PM Petushkova, a graphic artist and an expert on the old graphics, will give a lecture “Printed Graphics from Origins to Today”. At 6 PM artists will conduct masterclass and answer visitors’ questions.

Forced status

Petushkova and Shaporov, both graphic artists, moved to Vilnius in 2020 due to political persecution. In Minsk, they had founded the Belarusian House of Graphic Arts, organized exhibitions, workshops, auctions and contemporary art festivals. After moving to Lithuania, they also organize exhibitions and lectures here, and in July participated in the residence “Art Zone” in Nida.

Sviatlana Petushkova. Photo courtesy of Vytas Nomadas

Artists created two projects in the residence. “I created a massive land art project devoted to well-known Baltic amber. It’s a mix of interactive geocaching games, some cryptography with a significant reference to local culture. I won’t uncover the details for now to keep the intrigue. Sviatlana is occupied with her new expression media – tufting custom-made art rugs. We joined Lithuanian art associations, still looking for our place in the field of Lithuanian art, so there are more challenges awaiting,” Shaporov said.

Petushkova organized a personal exhibition at the “GODÒ gallery” in Užupis, conducted masterclasses for students of art studies. “I joined the Lithuanian Artists’ Association, this is a great achievement for me. We have always been active people, but since we ended up in Lithuania, we’ve become even more productive, most likely out of fear. Forced relocation and refugee status is not the most favorable period in life, and we had to climb out of our skin in order to establish ourselves in a new country. It seems that so far we are doing well,” she added.

Exhibition “Make Love” at “GODÒ gallery”. Photo courtesy of Vytas Nomadas

Only seems simple

Currently, on weekends, the “Skaryna Press Workshop” is held at the Energy and Technology Museum, during which the participants get to know the old printing technique – they collect and print their names from the authentic letters, print a greeting to Vilnius on the occasion of its 700th anniversary or (the most patient) a page of a book. They then appreciate how special the first printing process is.

“It’s a precise and meticulous art,” Shaporov agreed. And continued: “Contemporary people just can’t imagine that it was ever possible to spend a year or two for one task. How could Russian painter Alexander Ivanov create one painting “The Appearance of Christ Before the People” for 20 years? Or how could ancient Egypt pyramid builder carve one exact stone all his life? Same goes with printmaking. Every handwork is expensive.”

According to Sviatlana, the participants of the graphics workshop are always fascinated by the complexity of the process. “It’s especially important for me to popularize art, both graphic techniques and other types of fine art. Usually people, without knowing how something is done, believe that it is very easy to repeat. However, when provided with an opportunity to do something themselves, the complexity of the process becomes apparent and at the same time, art and handwork begin to be valued differently,” the artist said.

Not just be a modernist

The “Skaryna Press Workshop” is intended for the whole family, as well as for those who are interested in graphics, book printing and literature. When asked if Skaryna’s name has become more popular in Lithuania this year, Sviatlana said that he is not yet as known as in Belarus. “There is not a single person in Belarus who doesn’t know who Skaryna is. For us, he is the most important historical figure. Unfortunately, not many people know about Skaryna in Lithuania. But we will try to fix it,” she smiled.

Skaryna’s year coincides with the preparations to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Vilnius, which will be celebrated on January 25th, 2023. Why is it important for artists to contribute to projects that commemorate historical events?

“Our hometown Minsk is 250 years older than Vilnius, but unlike Vilnius it looks like a typical soviet district. It’s notable that almost all buildings of historical heritage were destroyed not by the enemies who pillaged Minsk, but by Soviet city planners and architects in 1960-1970. In recent years, the medieval city center was ruined to build broad avenues, squares and residential quarters. It’s important for an artist to respect the heritage of his nation, to keep and maintain traditions, not only to be a modernist,” Shaporov is convinced.

Andrej Shaporov “Minced Doggy”.

Attention turned to Ukraine

After starting the project, the artists hoped to print the first book published in Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the “Little Travel Book”. “Our initial goal was to recreate the original book by Skaryna using traditional techniques. The project turned from cultural to educational field, we’re doing our best to contribute to this new direction,” said Shaporov and noted: “There’s one significant event that overshadowed Slavic culture. It’s the war in Ukraine, and all our attention is focused on it. By participating in charity auctions, selling our art, we aim to support Ukraine ourselves. The goals and hearts of our work are now directed towards it and European unity.”

In her work Sviatlana continues political themes and protest. “In autumn we will show some of our new works on the topic of war in Ukraine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We participated in several charity auctions, transferred money to foundations, we actively volunteered and helped refugees throughout the spring. This war is a tragedy for us, because we were unable to make a revolution in our country, and because of this our neighbor Ukraine is suffering. If we had succeeded, most likely this war would not have happened,” she spoke.

Andrej Shaporov “Sailing”.

The meeting with the artists will take place on August 16th at the Energy and Technology Museum. Petushkova’s lecture “Printed Graphics from Origins to Today” will be given in Russian. The masterclass, questions and answers will be translated into Lithuanian.

The project of Energy and Technology Museum is intended to commemorate the year of Francysk Skaryna and to present the cultural heritage interactively. In collaboration with professional artists from Belarus, Sviatlana Petushkova and Andrej Shaporov, the printing press used in Skaryna’s printing house in Vilnius was restored and educational workshop was created, allowing the public to get acquainted with the old printing technology and Skaryna’s work.

Project sponsored by Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania.

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