In 1996 and for the 20-year
commemoration of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (April 24, 1986), The
Chicago Athenaeum : Museum of Architecture and Design mounted
a travelling exhibition of children's art from the Chernobyl Zone located
in the newly independent Republic of Belarus.
Organized by The Chicago
Athenaeum , and coordinated with the Embassy of The Republic of
Belarus in Washington D.C. and the Radziwill / Jodko-Narkiewicz Foundation,
the exhibition, "The Children of Chernobyl," presents 60-125 works of
art (drawings and paintings) by young Byelorussian children ages 6 through
The exhibition has toured
throughout the United States from 1996 through the present. Another
edition of exhibition opened in Norway and toured to Germany and Greece
Institutions interested in
having the exhibition should contact the Chicago Athenaeum.
In the wake of this worst
environmental disaster ever recorded in human history, over 800,000
Byelorussian children (2.2 million total Byelorussia) have been exposed
to various degrees of radiation poisoning. The radiation released after
the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor's core was nearly 200
times that of the combined releases from the atomic bombs at Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in 1945. Thousands of children have been permanently hospitalized
and critically ill with severe Leukemia, hyper plasma o f the thyroid,
and other cancer sicknesses.
The catastrophe also devastating
villages, cities, farmlands, crops, and supplies in and around Chernobyl
(Ukraine) and bordering Belarus. Scientists predict the lands in Ukraine
and Belarus, particularly those in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, will
be contaminated for over 24,000 years the normal life span of a radioisotope.
Although Chernobyl is physically
in the Ukraine and borders Belarus to the north, 70% of the radiation
that was released showered into neighboring Belarus. Russia was also
Presently, over 500,000 children
still live in the Chernobyl affected areas, according to the United
The works of art executed
by "The Children of Chernobyl" are part of therapy programs designed
to support the morale of the Byelorussian children confined to hospitals
and orphanages while waiting for short-supply medical care. The art
is particularly poignant and haunting -- real-life images of what it
is like to live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Other paintings record
the emotional upheaval of abandoning the homes and villages of their
families, often times leaving their elderly and pets behind. Oth ers
document the Chernobyl Blast and the invisible danger surrounding radiation
"Sadly," states Ambassador
Serguel N Martynov, The Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in Washington,
D.C., "many of the children that created these works of art have perished
Ten years after Chernobyl,
the situation in Belarus has grown even more critical. Birth defects
and various cancers continue to rise in astounding rates. Local people
are paralyzed with fear about living in a contaminated environment poisoned
by an invisible radioactive fallout they cannot detect. Hospitals are
over-burdened by the shear numbers of sick children and adults.
There is a severe lack of
supplies, medical equipment, medicines, and diagnostic technology. Even
baby food is non-existent or in extremely short supply.
Christian K. Narkiewicz-Laine,
Curator of the exhibition and Director of the Chicago Athenaeum
visited the Chernobyl Zone several times since 1993 for the purposes
of this exhibition. "The name, 'Chernobyl Zone,' according to Mr. Narkiewicz-Laine,
should be changed to "The Zone of Sorrow." Everything there is bleak:
the dead landscape, the empty villages, the abandoned classrooms. It
is as if there had been a war with a neutron bomb that destroyed only
the people and left the physical environment intact. It is eire. If
you can imagine a landscape and no birds."
"The aftermath of Chernobyl,"
Mr. Narkiewicz-Laine continues, "Is catastrophic. Because of the shortage
of medical supplies, doctors perform surgeries without rubber gloves;
sometimes without an anesthetic. There's even a shortage of antibiotics
and aspirin. Mothers were saying to me, "I don't know if I am feeding
my child with poison (radioactive) food and water." And then the fear
of abandonment. It's a 21-st Century scene from hell."
In the weeks before Christmas,
The Chicago Athenaeum is organizing "The Children of Chernobyl"
exhibition together with opening reception benefits in Washington, D.C.,
New York, and Chicago. International artists, architects, and designers
are participating through the design of holiday ornaments, which will
be sold at silent auctions.
Additionally, The Chicago
Athenaeum has established a special fund, "The Children of Chernobyl
Fund," as a way in which to mobilize financial contributions for food,
art supplies, and medical equipment for children living within the Chernobyl
Exclusion Zone. In Chicago and Madison, American children will be invited
to contribute art supplies and toys to the orphanages and hospitals
in Belarus, which will be delivered prior to Christmas.
For donations please print
out The donations form and
fax it to 815/777-2471 or mail it in to the address below.