Nicolai Kuprich

Verity Healey

When you are a child you can call Lukashenko an asshole because your parents do, but you don’t understand why he is - but when you get older you realise, as I did, why he is an asshole.

When I was fifteen I was more of an anarchist than my father was at forty. My dad used to be in meetings against the dictatorship, but after ten or fifteen years of fighting, people stopped believing they could do anything, and now they are used to living under a dictatorship. But it didn’t happen in an instant, it was gradual. All Belarusians feel that maybe someday it will get better and maybe one day we will make a revolution all together or someone else will make it – not me, my family or my friends, but someone else.

Everyone waits for one leader to solve all these problems, but I don’t believe this or that it could happen during my entire life. There are two options: Lukashenko stays and someone, his children or someone he brings in keeps ruling or Russia will come and will say you are our country now. Because it has happened in the past and they can do this.

Belarus is an interesting place to live in and be a photographer like me, it doesn’t matter whether there is a dictatorship or not. It is still a place no one talks about, and no one takes photographs of. I make documentaries as well and no one is making huge films in Belarus either.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to leave this country but I don’t want to. I did live in France for a while and I could stay and get a lot more money, ten times what I get here, but what could I do there? I am a foreign man in a foreign country. It would be a bit boring. I don’t think I could ever leave this country.

My father is an artist and I became a filmmaker. I first went to a Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) performance when Kolya Khalezin was still here. It was Discover Love. When I first saw it, it was very cool, it was at the time when you had to take your passport with you and when KGB agents sat with the audience. It affects you and at this time, it was huge. I guess I was seventeen, so it was thirteen years ago. Then a few years later my friend Dasha joined as a Fortinbras student and he asked me to take photographs of their work. We then made a documentary about House No.5 and I started doing video design for the shows and for years I have been making a Belarusian documentary about gay people.

With BFT the first few years was a real fight against the dictatorship, but in the last few years BFT has changed tack and it has a softer impact. I don’t mean that the performances are less angry or political. Kolya had to fight so hard and the government hated him, but now he is living in the UK he can put the fight for freedom into the performances more. The fight comes through the art and that is how art works. I think it is better because Belarusian people think that no one will go to political meetings and fighting through art is better.

Working with BFT doesn’t feel like a job because I enjoy it so much, I can make whatever I like and everyone likes it and BFT likes it. And they don’t tell me what to do, or how. I found a cool place where I can do what I like and I get paid for it and I really enjoy this stuff. I don’t think that a lot of people can say that.

I have learned to have artistic freedom. And BFT is so relevant because it talked about sex, human rights and gay rights and politics all those years ago and now other theatres too are starting to do it in Belarus. 

Nikolai Kuprich is Belarus Free Theatre’s filmmaker and photographer