Archived single content

“A Room of My Own” at the Centre for Visual Cultural Research, Kiev

Reading time: 4 minutes
Exhibition view "A Room of My Own", (c) Yevgenia Belorusets

May 24, 2012

On May 19th, two unknown assailants defaced a photographic exhibition by award-winning photographer Yevgenia Belorusets at the Centre for Visual Cultural Research (VCRC) in Kiev. Two men entered the gallery, waited until other the visitors left, then ran along the images and scratched the surface of the photographs with forks, tearing some of the pictures of the walls. A security guard working in the gallery was not able to detain the intruders. The attackers damaged 26 out of around 40 documentary photographs depicting the everyday lives of LGBT families in Ukraine.

“A Room of My Own” (curated by Nataliya Tchermalykh) opened thanks to support from the Heinrich Böll Foundation on the 3rd of May 2012. It was a part of the parallel program of the 1st Kiev International Biennale of Contemporary Art Arsenale 2012. The photo works are dedicated to the lives of Ukrainian LGBT and Queer families, who have to deal with harassment and threats of violence on a daily basis because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of them can still be found on the artists website.

Alongside with the photographic portraits, “A Room of My Own” exhibited testimonies based on interviews with the heroes and heroines of the project. The artist met these people during trips to various cities across Ukraine, and they agreed to talk about their everyday lives openly, despite the risk of being publicly judged. Through fragmented sketches of domestic life with all its joys and pains, Yevgenia Belorusets tells their personal stories, offering the visitor a brief glimpse of what lies behind the thick curtain which ordinarily separates their private lives from their public identities.

Unfortunately, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia are widespread in Ukraine. These attitudes impose severe limitations on the personal freedoms of homosexual and transsexual people. Society’s judgment still splits people into two camps, depending on the way they chose to live together as a family. There are those who can speak about their personal lives, and those who are forbidden to speak it aloud. As a result, one group of people is given a greater societal value and relevance - based on a mythological idea of what constitutes “normality”, which leads to a standardization of human life.

Yevgenia Belorusets' artistic and political intention is to make the invisible visible. To do this, she uses neutral photo-portraits and opens the dialogue. Her goal to reveal that which is hidden involves overcoming alienation by uncovering a closed-off world - a world where the participants in this project have found themselves against their will. By this, she also deconstructs negative imagery associated with transgender and homosexual people, which is built on stereotypes and a desire not to know more about the lives of queer people.

“A Room of My Own” is not the first exhibition to be held with support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ukraine which has evoked such a powerful resonance. During January and February 2012, the foundation supported an exhibition entitled "The Ukrainian Body" at the VCRC, which explored the problematic of corporality in Ukrainian society. On February 10th, 2012, Serhiy Kvit, president of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy to which the VCRC belongs, banned the exhibition, calling it "not an exhibition, but shit”.

Since then the center, which was founded in 2008 by a group of scholars, artists and students from the university's Department of Cultural Studies, is constantly struggling for its existence. To give the protests against the eventual closure of the center and the censorship a voice, visual material of a demonstration called “Shut it down and archive it!” (Zakryvay i archivuy!) where shown in conjuncture with Yevgenia Belorusets' pictures.