Maria Gvardeitseva is a multi-disciplinary visual artist, finalist of the National selection to Venice Biennale for Belarusian Pavillion, student of MA Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. We spoke with Maria about art in her life, artistic vision, future and a new exhibition in London in January 2023.

Article #Exhibition

23 January 2023


"I immerse viewers in worlds, vivid images of intense, pulse-pounding sensory experiences. I never know exactly how I'm going to end up with a particular issue. But for sure, I will always run through an emotion at its maximum resolution - as tight as a bowstring before shooting an arrow. In ordinary life, we often calibrate ourselves, allow ourselves to feel, say, 10 or 15 percent. Is it self-pity? Oh yeah. We save time; we save heart muscle". Maria Gvardeitseva

- How did art come into your life?

- For as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of being an artist. At the age of 17, I had a scholarship to the Wroclaw Academy of Arts and about 4 international exhibitions. But consumerism and common sense won. I was just frankly afraid to go into art because I was not sure that this profession would provide me with a decent income. But five or six years ago, by chance, I came to the Venice Biennale. And suddenly I felt like I was at home. And I had only one question for myself: how could I betray my childhood dream, abandon myself, and do something else for so many years? Two months later, I already organized my first exhibition. And away we go. Now I'm a Goldsmiths MA student in the Art and Politics program - at a certain stage I realized that I didn't want to be a self-taught artist and I needed to conceptualize my artistic practices more.


"I see pain and suffering. I feel the versatility of emotions. I bring a visual language to the feelings that live in the background of consciousness and are often carefully hidden. To walk in pain is to live the pain. Make it part of one's identity. I need to show the audience that they are alive. Bring them out of the matrix of familiar feelings, as worn-out as old slippers. And through the experience, petal by petal, to open their hearts. For compassion and love. For horror and beauty. This is my beat. And yes, I'm experiencing it now. And this is me, alive. In this body and with this emotion".


 - Your work is very emotional. How do viewers feel the emotions of your work in your opinion? How do you help them do this?

- I see it as my task as an artist - to create an artistic space in which people will feel. Unfortunately, we often live according to the routine, we don't ask ourselves if it's good or bad. One day it became painful or uncomfortable to feel - and therefore the choice was made to isolate oneself from emotions. I really love working with installations because they create an immersive space where you can work with all kinds of sensations. Hear, smell, touch, see - and it is the combination of emotions that allows you to get out of the matrix and get in touch with the real you. What do I feel now? I'm not afraid to immerse the audience in pain or negative feelings, I'm not afraid to provoke. I often deliberately work with noise or annoying pictures. After the first wave of denial, there always comes a second one, when the audience becomes creators and, in my ideal of the world, asks themselves why they feel this way. Why do they now feel empathy or irritation, joy, sadness or pain? Running away from emotions makes no sense. Emotions are better to be lived and felt.

- You lived in different countries. How is it to feel yourself an immigrant in different countries? What makes you feeling home? And what is it to be Homesick for you?

- An immigrant, in the first place, in my opinion, is distinguished by the absence of social ties and social capital. Relationships are like the roots of a tree. They give nourishment, stability, and confidence in yourself and tomorrow. For me, feeling like an immigrant means not feeling my roots, my connection to a certain place. A close friend of mine, also an immigrant, seems to have found the secret of feeling at home. She says that you need to find your people, and calm down. I will add that in addition to the circle of people close to you in spirit, the feeling of home is also created by your own places. Favorite coffee shop. A couple of excellent restaurants. Hairdresser. Favorite park. Bakery. A farmer in the market where you buy vegetables every Saturday and you know stories about his dog.

I have moved many times, lived in 7 countries, and I want to note that the world is becoming more and more open and comfortable for moving. It is no longer necessary to spend decades and even years to find your places and your people. Google will tell you the best places, there are apps to find everything from accommodation to romantic dates. And the friends of your close friends will most likely like you. And to miss home for me is more about the feeling of not being involved in the place where you are. When life seems to be in full swing around you, a lot of things happen, but you are not part of these processes. People are social beings. It seems to me that what is important for us is not a certain place, but the feeling of being in demand, needed and belonging - by other people. To be loved, to be heard, to receive unconditional support - this, it seems to me, is the feeling of home.

- How do you choose themes for your work? Your projects always resonate with society. Highlighting important social issues. What is important to you in this process?

- My artistic practices, of course, are connected with me. It's impossible to be authentic if you don't feel a certain theme. I have always been interested in myself, it is interesting to understand why something resonates and responds, but something passes by. Often these are social and political contexts - precisely because they are part of my life. As an artist, it is interesting for me to observe certain patterns and connections, and often these observations become new topics.

In the process, I need to observe what my attention is fixed on, and what emotions I feel at the same time. Don't leave, don't hide, but go deep, be honest with yourself, even if it hurts. So, for example, the Knitting Isolation Out project appeared - when I began to observe the passion for knitting that suddenly appeared during the lockdown, and the saving automatism of loops - and knitting gives the same liberating feeling of emptiness as automatic writing and drawing - I found myself a nine-year-old, a frightened little girl who experienced for herself what is poverty, and in knitting she found strength, at least in small things, through a sweater made by her own hands, to subdue reality and see the light. And in general, to see the light, to approach the light - this is the most important thing, in my opinion, in art.

- What project of yours was selected for the Belarusian pavilion at the Venice Biennale? What did it mean to you personally and why was your participation cancelled?

- DRYGVA project. Breath-in Breath-out is dedicated to the Belarusian swamps and the women artists who lived in these swamps and made swamps part of their artistic practices. I considered the swamps as the fundamental principle, the primary element of identity. There are about 25 words in the Belarusian language that somehow describe swamps - more than 20 percent of the country's territory consists of swamps, and this is the largest ratio not only in Europe, but also in the world.

The swamp gives a feeling of unsteadiness, instability, and plunges you into the "here and now" state - it is impossible to think about the past or the future when you don't know if your foot will fall into the quagmire at the next step. I wanted to immerse visitors in the immersive feeling of the swamp, to tell about the magic of these places through the archaic ancient healing whispers. It turned out how it happened. My political position was and remains open. I don't support violence. This is precisely the case when political views have their price. I am very grateful to the Rothko Center in Daugavpils (Latvia) and its director Maris Chachka for their support and the opportunity to exhibit the project.

- Tell us about exhibition MIGRANT'S ALTAR. FAREWELL. What awaits the visitor?

- This project was born to me when I decided to renounce Belarusian citizenship. I thought about what we have to bring to the altar of freedom - in my case, this is the rejection of the Motherland. But even if we give up belonging to a particular state, can we become truly free, can we achieve complete autonomy?

I have been reflecting and continue to reflect on my migrant experience. How little we can take with us and how little our memories are of value to the world. But we pray for them, for they are part of our identity. Our self. Who we present ourselves to the world. And how fragile we are in the world, defenseless. That it remains only to believe that amulets will somehow protect, create at least a temporary sense of belonging and security. Or maybe they won't. Everyone will find their answer.


Political turbulence, and sometimes a literal danger to life, forces people to migrate and look for new places to live and create. Maria Gvardeitseva, the artist, shapes her auto-exile, painful separation from her Motherland in MIGRANT'S ALTAR. FAREWELL. This exhibition is a dramatic emotional immersion. The presented works of art are very powerful pieces dedicated to self-identification and intimate treasures traveling with Maria in her search for a Home.

21-31 January, 12am - 8pm

Coningsby Gallery - 30 Tottenham Street, London W1T 4RJ