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Trip to Lazaret: symbolizing wounds

The Belarusian experience of exile has left many wounds for those affected. Exposing the trauma caused by separation from home, artist Darya Cemra’s latest exhibition explores the prospect that such pain may never truly heal.

April 4, 2024 - Bahruz Samadov - Books and Reviews

The common theme connecting Darya Cemra’s works is the entanglement of various traces marked by blood and ruptures of tissue. These materialized wounds are connected to memories of detachment from the home/homeland. Reflecting on the Belarusian experience of homelessness and forced refuge, her works show the never-completed, non-linear, and still-bleeding process of healing that goes beyond the logic of chronological time. 

In bandages, even if they are dense, there is always a splash of blood (Victim). In a frame, a wound tears away at part of the flesh, leaving a bloody mark (Maiming). Similarly, we can see the rupture and blood (Veins) in part of a body. The blood, as material evidence of a wound, is always visible, while healing is a process. But can healing ever be truly accomplished? Can the wounded subject escape their trauma? Darya Cemra’s exhibition, titled “LAZARET”, is an interim hospital for travellers. In context, it refers to subjects forced to leave their homes and experience separation.

The word trauma itself in Greek etymologically refers to a wound. In medical literature following the 17th century, it used to refer to “a physical wound that involves the penetration of the skin barrier”. In other words, trauma suddenly destroys the protective barrier and breaks the shield. The post-traumatic universe in Cemra’s works shows the traces of past trauma experiences, represented in blood, ghosts and wounds. According to Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a post-traumatic subject is one who survives death. Going beyond mere death, the subject re-emerges and still “lives death as a form of life”. Cemra’s works are about the surviving subjects. The death marks, the wounds on bodies and blood marks on bandages are not about the end. They are a recognition of the new “birth in separation”.

In Alive (Жыве), she depicts a ghost-like white figure made of the assemblage of frame and tissue. Half of the ghost’s body is wounded; it has not gone through any healing yet. The wound is seemingly located in the heart of the ghost-subject. However, if we draw upon psychoanalysis, we can claim the heart of the subject is the wound, an unsaturable void itself. 

For Belarusians, the signifier Жыве (Life) is associated with the patriotic motto “Жыве Беларусь” – “Long Live Belarus”. The motto has a long history connected to the anti-colonial aspirations of the Belarusian nation, which are now directed against the brutal Lukashenka regime and Russia’s neo-colonial influence. Reduced to Alive, the work reminds us of Derrida’s notion of “Hauntology” – a ghost ontology. This ghost ontology captures the negativity, the “insight that it is only the blockade, the impossibilities, the dislocations which follow from negativity”. The sort of “ghost-Belarus” always comes back; the ghost is the impossibility of the simultaneously absent and present Belarus. The ghost, which goes beyond the dichotomy of life and death, presence and absence, past and present, is what remains, returns, and never dies. Reminiscent of Derrida’s “Democracy to come”, the figure of the Belarusian ghost is not hopeless. After all, it always comes back and reminds us of its presence in absence. It haunts in its sublime form.

In Under the Sky of Belarus, she drew the wounded in the form of a white stork. The work is in colours close to white-and-red tones; the stork remains alive. The crimson tones remind us of the universal sign in video games when the main character is wounded and close to death. This is how the dying character sees the world before death. However, what is the state of the stork? It gazes (with its eyes bloodied) at emptiness with certainty and confidence. The wounds do not destroy the subject and do not kill. They make the subject Alive, potentially more living and self-aware than before. A trauma event, which took place in the symbolic sky of Belarus, is acknowledged. It is present in the form of an arrow, but the first step is made in the act of acknowledgement.

Cemra’s works are not centred around the politics of antagonism towards the authoritarian regime in Belarus. They are, first and foremost, about the wounded and dislocated identities and imaginaries of the Belarusians abroad. What is, then, Darya’s position? During the exhibition’s opening, Darya was in a nurse costume, as someone who mediates between the wounds, the wounded subjects, and third-party observers. This is the position of a psychoanalyst. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the analyst’s discourse is the place for “non-enjoyment”, for sincere speech without dominance, where the wounds of the addressee are acknowledged. The recognition of the traces of the unsymbolized, unbearable trauma is what directs the subject. They are wounded but alive. Just like Belarus.

More photos from the exhibition are available here.

Bahruz Samadov is a PhD candidate in political science at Charles University in Prague. His field of interest includes national identity construction, hegemonic projects, and authoritarianism in Azerbaijan.

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