Kai Nip, Staff Photographer

Amidst authoritarian and illiberal democracies, art often contends with existing social hierarchies. The MacMillan Center’s exhibition about feminist artists and activists from Central and Eastern Europe illuminates the intersection between beauty and radical social commentary. 

The exhibition, titled “Visual Acts of Radical Care: An Exhibition of Feminist Artist-Activists from Central and Eastern Europe,” is presented through an online gallery available through the MacMillan Center’s website. Five female artists are featured in the 3D virtual exhibit: Rufina Bazlova, Andi Galdi Vinko, Alevtina Kakhidze, Cecylia Malik and Masha Svyatogor. The exhibit explores themes of freedom and art, despair and hope.

In former Soviet bloc countries, “there is no [historical] concept of freedom,” curator Anika Szucs said. “Artists need to envision what freedom looks like, how can we conceptualize freedom in countries where there is no concept of freedom.”

All five artists envision this freedom in different ways. Although the artists use different genres, they are connected by their Central and Eastern European identity and their radical rejection of the hierarchies of post-Soviet bloc countries. 

For Svyatogor, a Belarusian artist, expressing her art is only possible in an international context. Since Svyatogor’s art critiques the Belarusian government, she only receives negative feedback in her country.

Svyatogor’s art features Soviet-era images juxtaposed with her own work. Despite the censorship and backlash her artwork received in Belarus, Svyatogor said she is hopeful. On the international stage, she can explore the problems and issues that plague her country. Through her art, Svyatogor is able to discuss what worries her.

Photographer Galdi Vinko instead finds it impossible to separate art from life during tragic times. Her photos document two timelines: Hungary during the refugee crisis in 2015 and Hungary months after the borders were closed. In her exhibit, “Borders,” she layers the two series of images. For Galdi Vinko, the collection demonstrates how borders are antithetical to freedom. 

“For me borders are limitations to your freedom, thoughts, body-related questions, anything,” she said. “In a utopian world, we would live without borders.”

But as a mother of two young children, Galdi Vinko said she must have hope. “My daughters’ generation will change what the world screwed up,” she said, adding that even though the past few years have been tumultuous, artists will continue to create art. 

The exhibition was designed to be shown in the MacMillan building in early April, according to Szucs. But due to the pandemic, it was first postponed then later reimagined in a virtual space. The transition to a digital platform made it accessible to a wider audience. Szucs said that classes from colleges across the country have been able to view the virtual exhibition.

However, an online exhibition lacks the intimacy of art. According to Szucs, the social aspect of viewing art with others is integral to a gallery experience. She added that the physical dimensions of artwork are also different in a virtual setting.

For example, artist Alevtina’s collection called “Mother” consists of miniature images of her mother dying as she crosses the border. Szucs said in an in-person exhibit, the small size of Alevtina’s images would have compelled viewers to step closer to the art, encouraging them to reckon with the thematic significance of the images.

But despite museum closures around the world, the exhibit leaves viewers with the message of “radical care,” asking them to redirect the fear and anxiety caused by the pandemic towards acts of care.

“In a political situation where care is necessary but unprovided, acts of care begin to look politically radical,” Szucs said, referencing a statement by Harry Josephine Giles that is displayed as part of the exhibition. “To care is to act against the grain of the social and economic orthodoxy. To advocate care is to advocate a kind of political rupture.”

The exhibition asks viewers to examine their place in a world that tells them they shouldn’t care. It will remain on view until Oct. 31.

Maia Decker | maia.decker@yale.edu

Correction, Oct. 27: This article has been updated to correct a misspelling of Kakhidze’s name. A previous version of this article also stated that the exhibit was designed for a digital space. In fact, the article was designed for a physical space but was later adapted to a virtual platform due to the pandemic.

Clarification, Oct. 27: This article has been updated to correctly attribute Szucs’ final quote, “In a political situation … Rupture,” to Harry Josephine Giles.