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A Closer Look: Pagan

Pagan by Andrei Liankevich
Andrei Liankevich spent two years in his native Belarus documenting the many pagan rituals often associated with the changing of the seasons, fertility of the land and harvest of crops. His images presented in the book Pagan, though seemingly a documentary project, use selective focus and creative framing to create a more magical image of the rituals, the surrounding lands and those who participate. The “pagans” are often decked out in regional clothing adorned with embroidery, ribbons and printed patterns while others don costumes portraying token animals or magical creatures associated with each festival. The book finishes with a description of each ritual – The Burial of the Arrow and Mermaid’s Week to name a few – printed in Russian and English. The work is similar in aesthetics to some of Liankevich's former Soviet contemporaries, but Pagan is an outstanding object filled with not just image showing the rites and rituals, but provides an overall feeling of the culture of these regions of Belarus.

Pagan by Andrei Liankevich
Pagan by Andrei Liankevich
Two of the features of design that make this book striking are the dark, often black, pages surrounding the images and the complimentary cinematic sequencing – it often feels like watching an old film. Each image, or sequence of images, is rife with symbolism which Liankenvich is so gracious to explain. In addition to the ritual descriptions in the back of the book, he presents the Glossary which defines how items thought to be associated with western iconography -- images of saints, crosses, water -- mix with the symbols of paganism: both proceeding in tandem to form the contemporary culture. This agrarian society has blended their daily belief systems and much of their life into symbolism and fairy tales. Bread is sacred (as with the Christian symbol of the body of Christ) and it could be considered sacrilege to “offend the bread in any way (e.g. to slice it incorrectly, lay it on a table or drop it on the floor).” The baking of it is regulated and it is incorporated into many holy days and weddings. The wolf and bear, not often considered in any religious ceremonies that I have attended, are often necessary or obligatory guests as costumed members of Christmas festivities. The spider, bat, hare and swallow also hold a special place in the folk tales and rituals. Much of the natural world, manmade structures, and inanimate objects, often hold special meaning beyond the object itself, which Liankevich addresses in imagery and words.

Pagan by Andrei Liankevich
Pagan by Andrei Liankevich
With the accompanying text, this book becomes educational material. If the viewer chooses to disregard the information, it is assured that the images will fulfill the eyes. Liankevich’s images are stark, the blacks are alluring. They present a life which seems idyllic, bucolic and wonderful. His people are, if not happy, content and the land seems to relish all the worship, providing a wealth of beautiful flowers and a bountiful harvest. Liankevich's photographs are intriguing, dark, and mysterious and, dare I say, exotic, a document of life stepped in ritual and adoration, and respect for life and nature.

Purchase a copy here

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