Lesia Pcholka

Belarussian artist offered residency as part of the ICORN programme

Belarussian visual artist and activist Lesia Pcholka has become the artist in residence of the Gdańsk City Gallery (GGM) under the ICORN programme. The ICORN network connects cities and cultural institutions to help artists at risk because of wars or political conflicts in their home countries.

Born in 1989 in Belarus, Lesia Pcholka uses photography, video and participation practices to explore the issues such as memory, identity and everyday life.

The Belarussian artist has come to Poland as part of the residency programme due to persecution suffered in her home country since January 2021. During the political protests in Minsk, she was arrested on no grounds by unidentified police forces and kept in detention.

Artist and activist  

In 2016, Lesia Pcholka created VEHA, an independent social and cultural initiative for collecting and archiving old amateur photos. Artists collaborating at VEHA focus on social memory using individual stories of Belarussian people as their artistic material. The purpose of VEHA is to promote Belarussian traditions. During years 2018 to 2021, the group released two photo albums with stories from lives of inhabitants of Belarussian villages, presenting important rituals of everyday life. Over 1,000 people responded to the project and contributed scanned photos from their family albums.

During the protests in Belarus after the presidential elections in August 2020, Lesia Pcholka shared on her website statements and testimonies of Belarussian men and women standing up for justice. She took photos from the protest and published them every day on her Facebook profile, where she commented on the current events and was therefore able to inform international community about the tensions in Belarus. Her photos were acknowledged and published by media such as BBC, Magazyn RTV, The Calvert Journal, Post.moma.org, Magnum Flow and others.

GGM residency programme

In Gdańsk, Lesia Pcholka intends to work on the project Invisible Trauma based on stories of people persecuted by the political regime. She will be focusing on psychological impact of the current political situation in her home country on the Belarussian people and the ways in which governments and censors exert pressure on citizens in different countries.

The Gdańsk City Gallery will cooperate with the City’s Social Development Department and the Immigrant Support Centre (CWII) to ensure that Lesia Pcholka’s stay in Gdańsk is carried through in accordance with Polish and international laws. One of the aims is to offer the artist the opportunity to develop creatively in Gdańsk and meet people of similar views and ideas on freedom and solidarity.

Membership with ICORN

ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) is an independent organisation of over 70 cities worldwide striving to protect writers and artists at risk for political reasons. The membership cities offer shelter to the resident writers and artists, advancing freedom of expression, defending democratic values and promoting international solidarity.

In 2017, the Gdańsk City Gallery (GGM) joined the ICORN programme as the local coordinator representing the City of Gdańsk. The Gallery’s membership in the programme was inspired by the literary activity of Günter Grass, the name patron of one of the Gallery’s branches.  As part of the programme, the City of Gdańsk provides the resident artist with financial support for one year and offers help with promotion of his or her art.

The Gallery has already hosted two residents: Palestinian poet Sari Al Hassanat (2018) and Tajikistani journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov (2020).  Lesia Pcholka is yet another artist who has joined this group.

ICORN website: https://icorn.org