Фотаальбом „Экспэдыцыя 1928 году Вацлава Ластоўскага“

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This publication showcases a rare and valuable document of Belarusian culture and scholarship preserved in the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum in London — a photograph album compiled from the artefacts acquired during an ethnographic expedition along the Słucak – Astaškavičy route. The 1928 expedition was organised by the Institute of Belarusian Culture and the Belarusian State Museum in Minsk. The album, which is of considerable interest for the study of Belarusian ethnography, sacred art and architecture, and the development of humanities in Belarus, was for many years available only to a narrow circle of specialists. 

This publication marks the 140th anniversary of Vacłaŭ Łastoŭski (1883–1938), a member of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus and an outstanding figure in the Belarusian national revival. In May – June 1928, he led a research expedition other participants of which were the head of the Ethnography Department of the Belarusian State Museum Alaksandar Panoŭ (1864–?), the artist-photographer Theodor Halmagean (1890–1941) and Stanisłava Łastoŭskaja (1889–?).

The present volume contains 270 original photographs from the expedition album. During the preparation of this publication, they were arranged in groups according to the points of the expedition route and the type of collected materials. This made it possible to present the rich acquisitions of the expedition more accurately.

Along the expedition route, the members of the group explored and made records of sacred and folk architecture, the layout of village streets and cemeteries, and manifestations of economic activity; they also acquired ethnographic objects for the Museum. In the section Antiquities of Słucak, there are images of wooden churches built in the distinctive local Baroque style; icons and works of decorative and applied arts from Orthodox and Catholic churches, which, at that time of anti-religious campaign, were being closed down or destroyed. Most of these monuments have not survived to our time. This gives particular value to their photographic images.

One of the goals of the expedition was to study folk costume. The photographs convey the distinct and diverse villagers’ characters. We cannot fail to be impressed by the group photographs from the Mazyr district, Homiel vobłaść, depicting the multigenerational nature of the village community. The beautiful portraits of women testify to the common traditions of folk clothing and the existence of a local artistic canon known in scholarly literature as Kalinkavicki stroj, i.e. the folk costume of Kalinkavičy.

The expedition collected many objects of material culture and folk art. About 1,000 samples of fabrics, items of clothing, wood carvings and other artefacts were brought to the Belarusian State Museum. The collection of wooden kiots and drinking ladles is of exceptional value. These rare museum objects were looted in June 1944 and taken to Germany. Ladles were returned to the museum, but their museum records were lost. Remarkably, almost all the images of ladles and kiots have detailed captions in the original album. A separate section of the album is dedicated to the rare ethnographic and art objects, which were added to the Museum collection after the expedition.

Most of the images in the album are accompanied by captions providing valuable detailed information and preserving the language of the original annotations. The records include the name of the item with its brief description; the information about the owner and the price paid for it; the time when it was made, the place and exact date of acquisition, as well as the Belarusian State Museum inventory number.

The publication of the materials of the expedition led by Vacłaŭ Łastoŭski shines the light on yet another important aspect of his academic work as an ethnographer and art historian and highlights the multifaceted nature of his personality. The introductory article to the album covers some fateful events in the biography of Łastoŭski: the period of his life from March 1927 when he moved from Kaunas, Lithuania, to Soviet Belarus until the moment of his arrest in July 1930. An attempt was made to at least partially restore the content of the articles based on the results of the expedition: “An Expedition to Study Belarusian Folk Clothing and Folk Art” and “The Decorated Wood (About Wooden Ladles, Kiots, and Gingerbread Boards)”, which were published in Volume II of the Papers of the Department of Ethnography of the Institute of Belarusian Culture in 1929. Soon after its publication, the authorities confiscated the volume. Like the author himself, Łastoŭski’s articles perished in Stalin’s purges.

The introductory article in this publication traces the history of the original album as a palimpsest document about the painful history of Belarusian ethnography and museum studies. The album has survived thanks to the efforts of many brave and committed people, including the Museum artist and restorer Haŭryła Vijer, a young Museum employee Źmicier Siamionaŭ, the Museum’s director during World War II Anton Šukiełojć and others.

The publication of the 1928 expedition photographs significantly extends their reach. They will become a valuable source for researchers of Belarusian culture, history of humanities and museum studies.

Translated from Belarusian by M. R.

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