MOSCOW, June 19 (JTA) — After many years in forced oblivion, Marc Chagall’s art is becoming a cherished part of national culture in his native Belarus. Last week, citizens of Minsk got a chance to see the works of their famous countryman for the first time, when a collection of 70 of the artist’s lithographs, watercolors and gouaches went on display in the Belarussian capital. Chagall was born in 1887 in Vitebsk, a city about 150 miles east of Minsk. He studied art and became a member of the avant-garde movement that flourished in this mostly Jewish town during the early part of the century. Chagall was not the first member of his family to become an artist. His grandfather Chaim was known for a mural in a synagogue in the Belarus town of Mogilev. The synagogue was destroyed by Bolshevik authorities in the 1930s. Chagall left the Soviet Union for Western Europe in 1922. He spent most of his life in France, where he died in 1985. For many years Chagall’s work was criticized in the Soviet Union, often in an anti-Zionist context. Despite the fact that Chagall often uses the images of his childhood and early adulthood in much of his work, not a single work by him was on display in Belarus. As the Soviet Union began to crumble, Chagall began to earn recognition. In 1991, an international art festival bearing his name — now an annual event — was organized in his hometown. Soon after, some of his works went on display. In 1992, a statue honoring him was unveiled in the city. The artist’s granddaughter, Meret Meyer Graber, who brought the current exhibition to Minsk from two French museums, says it took her several years to organize the exhibition in the former Soviet republic. Now, however, her work is paying off. Her grandfather is gaining official acclaim in the country he long dreamed of seeing again. Belarus’ Culture Minister Alexander Sosnovsky said on the opening night of the Minsk exhibition that “Chagall has come home after many years of oblivion.” Last year, during his trip to Vitebsk, Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko called Chagall one of the greatest representatives of Belarussian culture — words that no official in the country would utter when the Soviet Union existed. Vitebsk will see Chagall’s works again in a few weeks, when the exhibition moves from Minsk to Vitebsk. In addition, a one-story Vitebsk house that belonged to the Chagalls will be opened as a museum during this year’s Chagall festival. The annual festival has turned into the main event in the cultural life of Vitebsk, says Arkadiy Shulman, editor of Mishpacha, a Jewish literary and historical magazine published in the artist’s native city of 250,000. “It is great that Chagall has been officially recognized as a part of our country’s culture,” says Larisa Spiegel, an art student from Minsk. “I think this should make Belarussian Jews more proud of being Jews and the rest of our citizens more proud of living in the land of Chagall.”
ADVERTISEMENT: The transgender abba. The first female Hasidic judge. The Argentine-Brazilian-Israeli Jew living in Brooklyn. Help us tell these stories in our new series Chosen. We need your vote to make it happen. Vote today!