Why do you stand at the door? is the result of research carried out in 2021 and 2022 by Ukrainian artist Nikolay Karabinovych (°1988, Odesa*) at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. In “Project Space”, video, sound, text and installation by this multidisciplinary artist are placed in dialogue with publications from the 1920s-1930s preserved in the museum’s Yiddish library, as well as with objects from Jewish heritage.

The title of the exhibition Why do you stand at the door? is taken from the popular Yiddish song “Lomir Zikh Iberbetn” (Let’s reconcile). The lyrics are a call for reconciliation in love, as much as a reference to the fear of the other’s leaving. The verse is used here as a metaphor for the migration of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, a forced nomadism also found in the Yiddish books of the Jewish Museum of Belgium. These books provide a starting point for the poetic exploration of a forgotten collective memory. Particular attention will be paid to the testimonies of Yiddish women and authors of the interwar period, whose books shed light on a history of migration sidelined by national narratives and myths.

Working in partnership with curator Patricia Couvet (°1994, Paris), Nikolay Karabinovych seeks to bring together objects and archival documents with sources that are not referenced by institutions, with a view to valorizing what is not perceptible and unearthing invisible narratives. This approach enables us to rewrite a collective history, at a time when one of the foundations of that history – Yiddish, the quintessential diasporic language – seems to be disappearing. It also provides a framework for understanding the personal experiences of forced migration, past and present. It reminds us that, in every era, the artist is a witness to his own time: a critical source of historiography, he makes visible the cracks in a history that we cannot ignore as it unfolds every day in Kyiv, Odesa, Bucha, Kharkiv and Mariupol.

*Most Ukrainian city names have historically been translated from Russian into other languages. In this text and in the exhibition, we have taken the decolonial approach of keeping the names of the towns in Ukrainian.

© Isabelle Arthuis