Exhibited Artist

Alexander Mihalkovich

Exhibition | East from Where | 20.10.23-27.10.23

Studio Hanniball Artist Alexander Mihalkovich

Exhibition | East from Where | 20.10.23-27.10.23

In Belarus, all men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve in the military for a period of 548 days. While some believe that military service toughens young men and turns them into real men, others wonder if it is truly necessary or if it is just a waste of time.

When I joined the military, I had hoped to use my professional camera and take photographs freely. However, reality was far from ideal. I was assigned to a special forces unit in Marjina Gorka and was not even allowed to use my phone, let alone my camera. I managed to take some pictures with my old film camera, but they reflected the limitations of military life, the constant tension among soldiers, and the loss of individuality that comes with conforming to the military‘s strict hierarchy. The army is a large, old system that is steeped in Soviet traditions that are similar to jail traditions, including the relationships between people. The engine of this system runs on the energy of young soldiers, which is used by officers as free labor and by the government as propaganda.

The question that remained with me throughout my time in the military was whether it truly makes a man out of a boy. While I served I decided to make a full-cycle project about the military experience from recruiting to demobilization. From 2010 to 2013, I took photographs and wrote letters and paintings to describe the restrictions and limitations of military life that prevent soldiers from fully expressing themselves. Post script from 2023: The current political situation and the context of the Russian war in Ukraine (a situation that has caused significant harm to a neighbouring country and its civilian population), adds another dimension for those questioning the purpose and legitimacy of mandatory military service. Young men who disagree with the illegitimate Belorussian government’s involvement in international conflicts or its harsh suppression of political opposition and mass movements, find it especially difficult to comply with military conscription.

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