Denys Shantar

Marc Lauwers,
A Living Gallery

  • Tell me a bit more about yourself! Who is Denys Shantar?

I was born in Ukraine, but I mostly grew up in Zurich, Switzerland. There I did my Bachelor in Fine Arts at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). 2021 I finished my Master in Costume Design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp (KASKA).

  • How did you end up at the academy in Antwerp? What has been your trajectory?

Oh, that was a spontaneous decision. After my BA in Fine Arts I decided to do a  Master in Costume Design. There are not do many schools that actually offer such program. So, I applied to 3 different schools in 3 different countries, and in the end the Royal Academy accepted me, and couldn’t be more happier about this outcome.

  • Where is your studio located?

At my home. Me and my roommate have a very big living room, which we turned partly into a studio. This is very constable but also stressfully, since you’re surrounded by your work constantly.

  • What was the story behind your master project? How did you get here step by step?

Moving to Belgium was the 3rd migration within 3 generation of my family. In 1970 my grandmother moved from a small village in the north of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialistic Republic to the big cities in the south to get a higher education, when she was only 15 years old. People from the village regions were not able to get a passport till 1975, to keep working power in the villages. My mother more Soviet than Ukrainian left her broken country in 2000. My mother moved to the West with thousands of other women. Trying to find a better life for them and their children, moving to the capitalistic West, a system they were not supposed to fit in, a system they were not raised for. 20 years later I got on a train to leave for my studies here in Belgium. Being a constant misfit and not belonging in any institution or community, my identity search already began few years earlier. Who am I and where am I from? Not really Ukrainian not really Swiss, not really religious but not an atheist, gay but also asexual. Do I have to fit in somewhere?

All the silhouettes are made of second-hand and upcycled materials. They have been sent to me from all over Belgium, from Ukraine and Armenia, as well as gifted by people I met here and from my personal collection. By selecting these pieces I’m loading them with memories and association, fictionalizing personal with found objects.

  • What are the starting points of your creative work/process?

Mostly sleepless nights and outdoor walks, that’s when I get most of my ideas. I realized that I can’t force ideas and inspiration, they come to me suddenly and unexpected and then I just do it. I don’t really rationalize them, if I think the idea is good, I will do it, no matter how complicated or insane it is.

  • Is there a person (e.g. an artist, or this could be anyone) who has influenced your practice?

I think mostly my mother. She was an artist, when I was a kid and now she’s an art teacher for almost 20 years. Most of my knowledge and support I get from her. We talk a lot about art and things that inspire us, and even when we live in different countries now, I always send her pictures of my work when I feel stuck, and she gives me some advice. She is also my harshest critic, that’s why I don’t show her everything.

  • How do you want people to react/feel when they observe your work?

I think as an artist you have a clear idea in your mined, what your work is about and how people should see it. But I think it’s important to let go and let the work speak for itself. During my Master expo a lot of people came up to me and told me how much they could relate to my work. It’s that moment when you realize, that you did something right.

  • Can you describe what you are working on now?

Since I needed a break from my Master work, I decided to make a new installation for A Living Gallery. I try to connect different materials and artistic practices. Using fabrics, drawings and photography. Inspired by the current events of the lockdowns and the aggression against queer people.

  • If you could give 1 tip to students who are just now starting an art education, what would you give them?

Just do it and have fun.