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A song about life in paradise: the intimate art of Elena Kish

A song about life in paradise: the intimate art of Elena Kish
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In 2021, the distinctive artist, unique master, representative of naive art, Elena Kish, will be 125 years old. She is the creator of the unique visual genre of the author's painted carpet.

Elena Kish was born in 1896 (according to other sources - in 1889) in the town of Romanovo of the Slutsk district of the Minsk province (now the agricultural town of Lenino, Slutsk district of the Minsk region) in a peasant family.

The father was a creative person, a jack of all trades, and his abilities were probably passed on to children who in their free time loved to draw or make something. But fate bestowed the greatest painting talent on Elena. She did not receive a special art education, but she independently mastered the art technique of painting. She usually made her "malyavanki" on an unprimed canvas covered with black paint. On a black background, she applied a coloured drawing with oil or glue paints (sometimes using stencils) - and a bright image blossomed.

Virgo on the waters

The works and these were usually wall carpets, were created by the artist on orders during her travels in the Minsk region: from the beginning of the 1930s, Elena Kish began to walk around the villages and make carpets for a fee, sometimes for shelter and food. This is how she made her living. Bright and exotic "Malyavanki" were desirable in every village house. For their plots, the artist used fantastically allegorical themes ("Paradise", "A Letter to the Beloved", "Virgin on the Waters", "In the Garden of Eden", etc.). These works of Elena Kish amaze with the compositional courage and rich imagination of the author. From under her brush came out extremely multi-coloured, directly sincere, semi-real creations, which gave the interior of the dwelling a bright decorative effect and fabulous mystery. She drew different versions for her clients. Although each carpet was written according to a well-known plot, it was significantly different from the others.


During the Great Patriotic War, E. Kish lived for some time in Slutsk, then moved to her sister in the village of Grozovo (now an agricultural town) of the Kopyl region. In the post-war period, life was difficult. In addition, hand-made carpets began to be replaced by fashionable factory tapestries. Elena's works have ceased to be as popular as before. The path of life was presented to the lonely artist as a dreary song and, alas, ended tragically. In 1949 she was gone.

Interest in the work of the original folk artist aroused only in the 1970s. Information about the life and work of E. Kish was collected through the efforts of the artist V. Basalyga, who from childhood remembered the painted carpets in the peasant houses of his relatives. He became interested in the authorship of these bright and simple things and conducted his research, bit by bit collecting information about the artist and the beauty she created. In total, 12 works were found (out of 300 that E. Kish made in her life). In 1978, at the 1st Republican Exhibition of Folk Painted Carpets, the carpet by Elena Kish, restored by V. Basalyga, was presented for the first time. The Belarusian screenwriter and director G. Adamovich also contributed to the popularization of the name of E. Kish. She shot the film "Malyavany Paradise" (2010), dedicated to the life and work of the artist.

In 1984, the World Encyclopedia of Naive Art was published in Yugoslavia, featuring 800 names of artists from 50 countries. And among them is Elena Kish.  She is in line with the world-famous primitivist artists: Frenchman Henri Rousseau, Croat Ivan Generalich, Georgian Niko Pirosmani, Ukrainian Ekaterina Bilokur and others.

The works by the talented artist were presented in 1999 in Moscow at the 1st International Festival "Intermuseum". The works of E. Kish are part of a large collection of carpets of the Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve "Zaslavl" and are among the best examples of Belarusian naive art. She earned such recognition by patient service to creativity in the name of beauty. Sculptors and painters devote their works to her.


Information about the original artist can be found in the e-catalogue of the National Library of Belarus, the online encyclopedia "Belarus in persons and events", the database of national authoritative records, on the website of the Kopyl District Central Library named after A. Astreiko. We advise you to pay attention to the popular scientific edition of N. Rusakovich "Song for paradise life", which was published in 2016.

Bibliology Research Department


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