I’m the director of the cultural division of Dotyk (which means “touch” in Belarusian). Our organisation began as a queer film festival in 2015, structured around a number of principles. Since in Belarus the organisation of open public events is a very taboo, sensitive topic, we decided to work with cinemas and galleries to create a hybrid public-private format. The festival is an interdisciplinary platform for artists, researchers, activists, LGBT people and their allies — this helps create an exchange of ideas and solidarity.
Our team is now involved in other exhibitions in Canteen XYZ — a former factory canteen which we use as an exhibition space — and the festival has grown to include lectures, workshops, shows, parties, excursions and so on. It’s become a queer culture festival. While usually we feature an international group exhibition, this year for the first time we’re putting on a solo show by a Belarusian artist, Sergei Shabohin , called Practice of Subordination. This is a long term project by Sergei which I think demonstrates a very complex approach to queer problems. And we’re also planning a conference on queer history in the former Soviet Republics. We also have a community centre for LGBTQIA+ people and their friends and a club for parents of LGBTQIA+ children.
There aren’t any clear and concrete laws against what we do, but in Belarus that’s not what matters; what matters is fear and procedure. Sometimes people write to us accusing us of “propaganda” and other sins, as if we lived in Russia. The owners of the premises where we work act as if we’re not paying them, which stops us from embarking on ambitious projects for the space.
We find inspiration in ourselves, in sequins, in the oppressed people who come to life at our events, in the team, in our loved ones. The most important and uplifting work we’ve done so far was putting on the exhibition Hello, Happiness! by Marie Losier . Queer art and normal Minsk residents had never been brought that close together before.
I’ll see it as victory when parents start asking forgiveness from their children for having driven them from their homes due to their sexuality; when state cultural institutions are no longer afraid of putting words like “transgender”, “lesbian” and “queer” up in lights; when my friends who have left the country tell me: “you’ve done a great job transforming Minsk!”