Many people came to the premiere of the play "Memory Shelter" to the village of Stuly in the Pruzany Rajon [District].
The artistic presentation of National Master Mikola Tarasiuk’s life and creativity attracted visitors not only from Belarus, but from Poland as well. Larysa Bycko, the ideological inspirer of the play, a member of the regional public association "Tur", has told us why Mikola Tarasiuk attracts people, how he became a myth during his life, and how to preserve his heritage now.
- Larysa Mikalajeuna, you have been a part of Mikola Tarasiuk's life and heritage for many decades. Did you understand at once that he was an unusual person?
- After I graduated from the Institute of Culture, I began to work in Brest, and when I saw Mikola Vasiljevic's wooden people for the first time, at once, it is possible to say - at first sight, I understood that this person was a masterpiece of nature, our Belarusan nature with its Bielaviezskaja Pusca (Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park). His works are unique! I began to go regularly to Grandfather (this is how we called him with love), to write down his stories, and to plunge into his world outlook and, in general, local life. Then, there were exhibitions of Tarasiuk’s wooden people - most of them were initiated by me. And now, together with my husband and adherents from the public association "Tur", we work to preserve the memory of our Polesian creator - to preserve it here where he lived. After all, Mikola Vasiljevic's life was inseparably connected with the village and the woods - with all this space.
- Near Minsk, there is a museum of stones - beautiful, majestic. But these stones are pulled out from the landscape where they "lived" earlier.
- Yes, Tarasiuk is a giant of this place and we should leave him here. How can we do it? I have a huge archive - gigabytes of records of conversations with the master, a lot of pictures, videos. It is possible to process all this with the help of today’s means and to make interesting audio-visual projects. The play is the first step in this direction. After all, unfortunately, right now we have no access to Mikola Vasiljevic's numerous works. It has to do with dominial-legal issues.
- And when did you feel, so to say, your private responsibility for Mikola Tarasiuk's heritage?
- After the first meetings, I dropped out of our communication for a certain period as I had children. During that time, in his yard, he built a museum and placed all his works there. The museum is also like a work of art - such a small house that reflects his inwardness. But Tarasiuk did not know what to do with this museum. From time to time, during moments of despair, he used to say that he would burn it all.
I remember when I came to the museum for the first time I was shocked - everywhere there are figures of people – they are born, they work, they marry, they die... I was and still am admired. When visitors came to us, when Master was still alive, I took them to the museum "Memoirs of Homeland" (this is how the museum is called). I would like to tell the whole world about it! Then, I understood that it was necessary to write about Grandfather. I wrote an article, prepared the first small booklet with photos. Then, I prepared documents to include his works in the list of the non-material heritage of Belarus. When Tarasiuk died, we, the public association "Tur", began to worry very much because of the destiny of his non-material heritage; after all, of course, we have no rights to his material heritage. We know lots of examples when national creators’ names disappear after they die physically. To preserve the memory of them requires many efforts. By the way, a year ago, our project “Mikola Tarasiuk’s Paths” was supported by Minsk SocialWeekend-7, which allowed us to make several thematic wooden sculptures in this place.
- And still, I wonder if you felt some impulse, some insight, that you should work with Tarasiuk's heritage? Why did you assume responsibility?
- Mikola’s sister, who is now 90 years old, said, "God gave talent to my brother to create all this, and He made you, Larysa, take care of my brother". Although, the state did not offend Mikola – the authorities valued him when he was alive, which, by the way, does not happen often here in Belarus. There were films about him, and books were written, and he was given gifts. He received the “National Master” status in 1989. There were a lot of people who came here to see his works.
Although, I see that foreigners have more feelings to the creativity of Master. They also like very much the desolateness of our villages near the Bielaviezskaja Pusca, of our Polesian landscape. When he was alive, Mikola Tarasiuk and students of the Ethnographic Association organized a Swedish-Belarusan project. So, one Swede, a 60-year-old woodcarver, sat on a bench and started to cry. - "Why’re you cryin’?" - we asked him. - "I’m cryin’ cuz I’m happy that I got here." - Here is the spirit of Master. He helps us overcome all difficulties.
- When I hear stories about Grandfather’s life – they seem like a myth. During his life, Tarasiuk was mythologized, too?
- Yes. He was a live performance. He was interesting, and it is not important whether he told real stories or invented ones. And there was a corresponding atmosphere around him. Once, his Polish colleague Tomasz Sulima visited us. It was -20C on the street. We came to Grandfather and climbed on his heated oven to have a warm. Mikola brought his hens to the house so that they would not freeze outside. And two turkeys that were killed by a fox in the morning hung near the oven. Here, his sister is calling, and he tells her, "Listen, I’m busy right now, there’re correspondents from America." Imagine! We are on the oven, listening to all this, there are birds in the house. And Tomasz says, “We’re as if in some other world, on the oven, and around us – there’re dead and alive birds!”
Grandfather was a philosopher and his vision was reflected in his works. He always knew what figure he would make. Many masters, particularly carvers, take a log and do not know yet what they will do. And Tarasiuk always knew. He imagined it in his head and then started to make it. All people appreciated him and still appreciate, but meanwhile we have not made him a master of such a scale like the Georgian Pirosmani. And he is our national heritage, he is worth it. And our task is to increase his glory.
- And what if, God forbid, all his works will disappear. What will happen to Tarasiuk's heritage, what do you think?
- When he was alive, Grandfather said that somebody wanted to kill him and that he slept with a gun. Only a part of his works is in our rural museum. A big fund is in the Pruzany Museum - about 100 works. There are his works in the art museum in Brest; there are his works in Minsk as well. During the last years of his life, Tarasiuk used to give his work to museums.
In Stoily, we would like to create a center of naive art so that rum fellows like Mikola Tarasiuk from all around the world would come here with their sincere hearts and, despite their age, with children's perception of the world. To begin with, we want to try to organize a small festival of naive art. We are working now on its concept, we are searching for financing. Also, we want to create a center of crafts where children and the senior generation from neighboring villages would work. Last year, we took up a loan in Belagroprombank to develop rural tourism and built a big pavilion we called the cultural-educational center "Rural Renaissance" where we carry out all our cultural projects. We have already created two batleika performances [a portable puppet theatre; vertep] - "Herod the Great" and "Memory Shelter". Here, in such a form, I think, Tarasiuk's heritage will be preserved in the best way.
- What do you think of the tourist potential of the region?
- At first sight, it is a hopeless place - who will go here? But people do go there - to get acquainted with the heritage of Master and simply curious people. We have synergy of natural and cultural components, and Tarasiuk is a product of this territory. We have studied each corner here; now we organize excursions here. If we walk fast around the village – the excursion will take two hours, and if we go to the river where there were romantic aspects of Mikola's life – add two more hours. And it may seem that it is impossible to see anything interesting in a dilapidated village with almost no inhabitants.
- So, how many tourists can there be within a year?
- The whole world went to see Mikola Tarasiuk – people from Poland, England, France, Sweden, Russia, the United States, and other countries. One more indicator of how culture forms the region’s potential is the growth of prices of old houses in the vicinity. Some of them stood for years and as soon as our Stuly began to revive - there came owners and these houses became more expensive. This is how the economic potential of the area is growing.
- The association "Tur" has initiated an award for the care of heritage. How do you think who should be responsible for the recognition of this or that person’s contribution to culture?
- The state together with public associations should care of heritage. Here, there is no competition - together we can do more. It was also demonstrated by the round table that happened after the performance. There were cultural figures, masters, representatives of power, scientists, and relatives of Mikola Tarasiuk. Everyone expressed their opinions, there was a mutual understanding, and it became obvious where to move next.
The International Project "CHOICE - Cultural Heritage: Opportunity for Improving Civic Engagement" is implemented by the Association of Local Democracy Agencies ALDA (France) in conjunction with the International Consortium EuroBelarus (Lithuania).