press release

The word paganism has a number of different meanings and connotations. The term comes from the Latin paganus, meaning “country dweller” or “rustic.” It serves as a generic term for the religions and popular beliefs that predated Christianity in Europe, such as shamanism or polytheism. Prior to Christianity, the word pagan meant something like “the other; not like us.” It came into use during the time when the Roman Empire had become Christianized but many peasants and villagers still maintained their former beliefs.

In many parts of Europe there are still pockets where the old beliefs live on to this day—beliefs whose thinking and concept of the world were founded in the pre-Christian era. Many traditions and rituals exist in parallel to our own day’s thinking. At the same time, many traditions are on the verge of disappearing. The point of departure for this exhibition is the multi-layered meanings of the term pagan, and the selection of works is intended to reflect the term’s varied and shifting meanings. What the works have in common is that they all refer to an alternative to the way of thinking that is dominant in the Western world, and to alternative paradigms of reality.

In his series Belarus Pagan Tradition, Andrei Liankevich documents the agrarian society that lives on in Belarus, though it is about to disappear—everything from clothing to rituals and ceremonies and more. We see here a faith that exists alongside the mainstream religion, and may even have been adopted by the church to some extent. Liankevich also links his pictures to the question of what actually constitutes the Belarusian national identity. Ales Pushkin, another Belarusian artist, contributes a documentation in which he reconstructs a ritual with ancient roots in the culture of Belarus. In the pieceMilk for Lambs, artist Almagul Menlibayeva also reconstructs rituals and traditions, this time those of the nomads of Kazakhstan.

Rituals and references to paganism, pre-Christian faith, or shamanism are recurring threads in art since the 1960s—especially in performance art and land art. This exhibition includes three significant art historical points of reference: Joseph Beuys’s I Like America and America Likes Me (1974/78), Ana Mendieta’s Alma Silueta en Fuego (Silueta de Cenizas) (1975), and Bjørn Nørgaard’s notorious The Horse Sacrifice (1970). In recent years we can once again discern a strong interest in rituals among the younger generation of artists, represented here by Nadine Byrne and Ann Korzhova.

This exhibition also includes objects of an ethnographic character, such as a number of Swiss masks from the Wallis canton. Kalmar County Museum has contributed several objects that can be tied to the local region, and the exhibition is complemented by a few pieces from our own collection, including work by Jenny Nyström and sketches with elements of Greco-Roman mythology.

Curator: Martin Schibli

only in german

Kurator: Martin Schibli

Künstler: Joseph Beuys, Nadine Byrne, Ann Korzhova, Andrei Liankevich, Ana Mendieta, Almagul Menlibaeva, Bjorn Norgaard, Ales Pushkin & Yevgeny Yufit