Why do you stand at the door?


The Jewish Museum of Belgium


17.06.2022 — 01.01.2023


The exhibition Why do you stand at the door? presents works (video, text and installation) by the Ukrainian artist Nikolay Karabinovych, in dialogue with publications kept in the Yiddish library of the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The exhibition juxtaposes the history of the migration of Eastern European Jewish communities with that of cultural publications written in Yiddish in the 1920s and 1930s.

The title of the exhibition WHY DO YOU STAND AT THE DOOR? is taken from the Yiddish folk song ‘Lomir Zikh Iberbetn’ (Let’s Make Up).

The lyrics are a call to love, as well as a reference to the fear of the other’s departure. The line is used here as a metaphor for the compulsory and successive migrations of Eastern European Jewish communities to the gates of the West. A forced nomadism, which can also be read on the first and last pages of the Yiddish cultural productions housed in the Jewish Museum of Belgium. Some were published in Kyiv, Warsaw, Vilnius and then sealed in Johannesburg, New York and are now kept in Brussels, Ghent or Antwerp. These seals are a starting point for a poetic exploration of a fragmented collective memory, within which the women poetesses testimonies reconstruct historical intervals of displacement, a history of migration omitted by books presenting national narratives.

The history of Yiddish publications is inextricably linked to those who speak the language. Its use has survived the qualifications of zhargon thanks to a culture that transcends notions of, national borders and cultures. The Judeo-Germanic vernacular was transformed by migrations through Eastern Europe by those who practised it from the Middle Ages in the Rhine Valley to Birobidzhan.¹ Yiddish is an inherently diasporic language.

in the project space of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, the works of Nikolay Karabinovych subtly combine references to Jewish culture and its representations in literature, music and audiovisual archives

In an active and non-exhaustive voice, Nikolay Karabinovych questions the writing of a history fragmented by migrations, the knowledge produced by the diaspora and the meaning the archives of the Jewish Museum of Belgium are afforded today. Objects placed on graphic-like drawings in museum windows blur the differences between the artist’s work and the archives selected from the Yiddish library. The artist asks the question of how we should look at the preserved objects, their status as arte-facts in an ethnographic writing of Jewish culture and the institutional narratives surrounding them in Brussels, Moscow or Odesa. The door is used as a metaphor to open up new readings, but also as a reference to the history of the Jewish Museum in Belgium, whose door remains a reference to a heinous anti-Semitic event.

In this space, the artist’s personal stories are linked to those of the displaced authors. The exhibition juxtaposes literary archives and photographs representing the Jewish diaspora with fictional writing proposed by Nikolay Karabinovych.

1. Birobidzhan was an oblast of the Soviet Union. Founded in 1934, it was intended read Yiddish. to be one of the first autonomous territories to accommodate the Jews of Russia. The official language was Yiddish.

An important component of most of Nikolay’s projects is also music. Cover versions of well-known songs defining historical eras are a functional artistic tool to stimulate the senses of the audience and through their own musical interpretations allow them to see deeper structures conditioning the origin of the composition or its cultural references.

That’s all, folks! wooden gusli, pencil on paper 50 x 32 x 5 cm, 2022

And the Smoke of the  Motherland is Sweet…

is a poetic title inspired by a poem by the Russian writer Lermontov, referring to the colonization of the Caucasus in the mid-19th century and a place of exile for many Russian prisoners. This hybrid ready-made is a combination of a samovar, which is traditionally associated with Russian culture but has spread throughout Eastern Europe, with the shisha hookah spread from India throughout Asia and the Middle East. Although it is a non-functional object, it clearly refers to other, often very sophisticated, historical objects which were created by mixing the traditions of different ethnicities. However, it is necessary to remember that the colonial influence of other cultures also often ends in failure and useless pasquils.

From the series And the Smoke of the Motherland is Sweet…. Soviet Samovar, Egypt shisha pipe, 97 x 30 x 20 cm, 2018-2022

Collective Action Group
This hammock contains a quote from Andrei Monastyrski’s book: “I do not complain about anything and I almost like it here, although I have never been here before and know nothing about this place.” but in the visual form of a protest slogan. It is a cult work of the participatory art group Collective Action Group (Kollektivnye Deistvia), which, although operating in Moscow, its founding members were Ukrainian artists who could not study in Kyiv. The participatory art of the 1960s and 1970s, created under the Soviet Marxist-Leninist regime, was a strong opposition art form, although it avoided direct political confrontation. The CAG group included later important personalities of Russian conceptual art, such as Ilya Kabakov and the poet Lev Rubinstein. An event displaying a red banner with this inscription was held up in a snowy landscape on the outskirts of Moscow in 1977 and became one of the group’s founding events. At that time, the CAG, which recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, had only 4 founding members. Although the number of CAG member has since increased, in the history of art it is the group with the longest continuity of work. By transforming the political protest banner into a hammock that suggests leisure and rest, Nikolay Karabinovych deconstructs the work, giving it new content and, above all, functionality. Although it ceases to be legible, it is suddenly possible to really ‘rely’ on the propaganda slogan.

Wind of Change

Wind of Change is a song by the West German rock band Scorpions, recorded for their eleventh studio album, Crazy World (1990)…[and in this recording Nikolay whistles over it]. The power ballad was composed and written by the band’s lead singer Klaus Meine following the band’s visit to the Soviet Union at the height of perestroika. With estimated sales of 14 million copies sold worldwide, Wind of Change is one of the best-selling singles of all time…The band presented a gold record and $70,000 of royalties from the single to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, with Soviet news sources claiming the money would be allocated to children’s hospitals.

The song is the subject of the podcast Wind of Change, released 11 May 2020, which raises questions regarding the song’s origin. Patrick Radden Keefe, the New Yorker author and host of the podcast investigates the allegation that the song was written by or connected to the Central Intelligence Agency, citing a rumor originating allegedly from inside the agency. In a Sirius XM interview with Eddie Trunk on 13 May 2020, Meine stated “It’s a fascinating idea, and it’s an entertaining idea, but it’s not true at all.” In December 2020, Deadline reported that the podcast will be adapted into a television series for Hulu directed by Alex Karpovsky.

As of 2022, the Scorpions still perform the song live but with lyrical changes in light of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The opening lines are changed to “Now listen to my heart / It says Ukraine, waiting for the wind to change.” Meine stated, “It’s not the time with this terrible war in Ukraine raging on, it’s not the time to romanticize Russia.” (source: Wikipedia)

Emma Hanzlíková

Supported by Asylum Arts
Photo: (c) Nikolay Karabinovych, Jewish Museum of Belgium. Photographer: Isabelle Arthuis
Thanks to: Bruno Benvindo, Philippe Blondin, Sophie Collette, Barbara Cuglietta, Anna Fernandez, Laia Lozano, Marianne Martichou, Caroline Roure, Olivier Vander Perre, Philippe Straus and the team of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, and also Alexandra Tryanova, Sasha Pevak
Exhibition Graphic design: Callum Dean & Tiobo Kho


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