forest_280The Belovezhskaya Pushcha in Belarus is an ancient woodland site, the last primeval forest in Europe. It has its special place in the history of the country and is deeply rooted in the Belarusian folklore. It represents in people’s minds the wild, unspoiled place where the national spirit, in its purest form, can still be found. They sing about it both on the public TV and at drunken private parties.

There, in the wilderness, a pact to dissolve the Soviet Union was signed, which, in consequence, has given the former Soviet republic its independence and sovereignty today. The ‘dacha’ where the meeting was held has since become an official residence of the Belarusian president Lukaszenko. Unfortunately, neither the national pride nor the official status of the place could protect the forest from its devastating abuse by the state for economic profit. Excessive logging, unregulated wildlife hunting, and unsupervised tourism expansion have all contributed to the rapid decline of the forest.

I wanted to examine the complex human relation with nature in the communities situated closest to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. I was primarily interested in how the proximity of this ancient forest was reflected in both public and private spaces. I travelled around the area visiting homes, local administration offices, museums, forestry lodges and community centres in search of items and themes related to nature. I found many objects, some had been brought inside from the forest, others portrayed the surrounding nature or mythical scenes in pictures. The interiors, though sometimes recently renovated, had often remained unchanged since the Soviet era. The incursion of nature into people’s homes is a long-established tradition. What I have discovered is people’s awe and reverence for nature, as much as their exploitation and abuse of it.
Jan Brykczynski