Monika Orpik

2020 - Ongoing


“Neighbours” examines the identity building process of Belarusian community in Poland. With regards to the 2020 elections in Belarus and the subsequent wave of protests, the questions of what is the notion of the neighbour and what is the border between Poland and Belarus, which historically was dividing villages and families, came to the surface again. The work combines narratives of Belarusians in two regions : Podlasie (East Poland), where they have been based for hundreds of years and contributed to the development of cultural heritage and Warsaw, location which is becoming more and more popular due to economic or political migration. By documenting the communities through photographs and interviews “Neighbours” is trying to find a middle ground for a mutual cultural consciousness and a subsequent support in the times political upheaval and rising discrimination of minorities.

The whole series will be presented with a Songbook specially developed for the project. A graphic songbook (shown in form of a free newspaper) of traditional Polish-Belarusian songs sung in a dialect that can become extinct in a very near future. The dialect is now only spoken in a very few villages mostly inhabited by elderly Belarusians without any chances of being passed on to younger generations. The songbook would consist of a series of photographs showing conductor’s signs/gestures as a symbol of unheard melody and a language known only for a quite narrow audience. Each sign would refer to the sounds/words appearing in the songs almost like a sign language for the endangered dialect.

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  • Grabarka - a mountain located next to the village of the same name in Podlaskie Voivodeship. It is the most important place of religious cult of Orthodox believers in Poland.

  • Doroteusz inherited his grandparents house when he was 17. After they died he set up a Museum of Little Nation in Studziwody, where one can find displays on Belarusian heritage, traditional craft of the region and the history of his family. Beside his work in the museum, he organises traditional singing workshops with a choir run by his family.

  • Krynoczka (Święta Krynoczka) - a spring in the Białowieża Forest,considered miraculous by the faithful of the Orthodox Church. Pilgrims visiting Krynoczek traditionally wipe the sick area with a handkerchief moistened in her water, and then leave it on the fence at the back behind the well, thus symbolically getting rid of the disease.

  • "Borders are a strange creation of human imagination and they turn reality into something irrevocable. Sometimes it's a cut that precisely marks the beginning and end. During the war, the Białowieża Forest was a place without a rigid border. The green belt itself allowed for the flow between cultures and borders. (...) I have the impression that a certain process of inner tearing is still there. First, there was an expropriation (mass evacuation, resettlement of mainly Orthodox people, from the western governorates of the Russian Empire into Russia in 1915) - most of the people left here, including our family. Then they came back, there was nothing, and when there was not much left. When they left, they handed out or buried them. Then this border."

  • Belarusian Lodge was created by a small rural community of women in Orzeszkowo village, who gathered objects from abandoned houses in the region. The objects that are displayed in the lodge represent cultural heritage and historical symbolism of Belarusians living in the area. Most of them belonged to families who had to run away a genocide in 1946 conveyed by a special group of Polish soldiers. The Belarusian Lodge works now as an educational point for a younger generations in the nearby villages.

  • A participant of annual outdoor sculpting event. Jerzy, a Belarusian sculpture from Hajnówka draws a sketch of a dove every year which he plans to work on later in wood.

  • Grabarka - a mountain located next to the village of the same name in Podlaskie Voivodeship. It is the most important place of religious cult of Orthodox believers in Poland.

    According to legend, an unknown resident of Siemiatycze experienced a revelation during the cholera epidemic, during which he heard that the only way to save himself was to go to Mount Grabarka with the cross. He told his dream to the paroch of the Uniate parish, who considered this dream to be a divine revelation and led the town's population up the hill, from under which a stream flowed. The refugees who drank water from the stream survived. The legend says that after this event, no one else died of the disease. In the same year, plague survivors erected a wooden chapel on the mountain as a thank you for their lives.

  • "Every generation of Belarusians, including mine, has a problem. My parents' generation had the problem of escaping from the countryside to the city. The duality of their lives ended with the rejection of the problem of ruralness in favor of increasing the standard of living and culture. My parents talked to each other in Belarusian dialect, but in more official situations they did not use this language. Even my mother's close friend, who is Polish, did not know that my parents spoke Belarusian. They lived in a double life and it was obvious that on the outside you are completely Polish and at home you are Belarusian."

  • Sergiusz is one of only few who survived the genocide in 1946 in Zaleszany, where 16 Belarusians where killed by a special group of Polish soldiers. Majority of his family died in the house which was locked and later set on fire. Only 2 original houses remained from that time as the rest was burned down during pacification of the village. Sergiusz is still living in the village where the crime took place. After his dad passed away, Sergiusz started building houses for other people in the village.

  • After 27 years of silence, Jana Shostak decided to show her anger about the regime in Belarus. She organises one minute of screaming for Belarus in front of the buro of Euro Parliament in Warsaw. For her the screaming stands as a live sculpture dedicated to all political prisoners of Lukashenka regime.

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