In winter 2010, I was attending the judo club from my university. The campus stands alongside the Kastrychnitskaya Street, very close to the “Pershamayskaya” metro station. The Svislotch River makes a u-turn around it. Every training session would start with jogging no matter the weather. I remember running under the snow to the sound of rock music and sniffing the strong scent of yeast. Yeast plant, “Krystal” vodka plant and other century-old red-brick factories did not seem very friendly. I would never guess that a couple of years later Kastrychnitskaya will have the best street-art and galleries in Minsk. The unofficial art district became the high-light of every city-tour.
In the XIX century, citizens used the word “Lyahovka” to call the area around contemporary Kastrychnitskaya Street. In Belarusian “Lyach” means a pole. People inhabiting these city outskirts were mostly Belarusian Catholics. But for the city residents, it hardly made any difference and the nickname stroke its roots. The proximity to the train station and river were the main reason for the “Lyach Suburb” to turn into an industrial quarter. First, red-brick factories started to appear at Nizhne-lyachovskaya Street (renamed into Kastrychnitskaya in 1961) at the end of the XIX century. The vodka from one of them won an international prize in Paris and got appreciated even by the Russian Imperial Court.
A revolution led to further industrialization in the USSR period. “MZOR” or “October Revolution Machinery Plant” replaced the last residential buildings in the further end of the street with its facilities. Starting from the 1930s, workers could reach factories by a designated tram line. WWII spared the plants, but the time did not. In the 1990s, most of the productions moved outside the city. Abandoned plants stood in contrast with the campus, a concert hall, and vodka and yeast factories on the short part of the street. New times brought new approaches. Lofty spaces, affordable rent, and illegal techno-raves picked the interest of creative youth. Crafty workshops soon turned into art galleries, creative hubs, and the ground for the first urban art festival in Belarus.
Rogerio Fernandez and Evgeniy Matyuto (Cowek) were the first to cover “MZOR” walls with their murals during Vulica Brasil 2014. ”Love between Frida Khalo and Vincent Van Gog” and “Belarusian legends” paved the way for future collaborations between Brazilian and Belarusian street-artists. A biannual urban art festival changed the city’s image and helped to revitalize “dead” spaces. Kastrychnitskaya Street became the urban center of attraction.
Endangered Belarusian species - stork, dear, and zubr (Belarusian bison) from one of the biggest murals in the world “Kaleidoscope of Belarus” by Ramon Martines get on the phone screens of every passerby. Magical black and white characters by the Brazilian artist Speto, together with surrealistic monsters by the Belarusian artist Bazinato, invite you for a deep thought session at the benches. You could even chill on the wooden sculpture “Energy of nature” by “Echo” art-workshop.
“Ў Gallery” is named after the unique Belarusian consonant “u” letter (resembling "y" in English). It’s a popular space for art and photo exhibitions. Check the schedule of “OK16” to see what is up at the biggest cultural hub in Minsk. You might end up at an open-air concert, fashion market, opening of a contemporary art exhibition, immersive performance, theatre shows or even a craft beer festival. Don’t forget to visit the backyard of "MZOR": “Lo-fi customs” art-workshop, "Kitchen coffee roasters" cafe and “Watch your garden” mural by Bruno Big are only accessible from the riverside.
Minsk may look very Soviet from the outside. But, on the inside, it is young and vibrant. Just like with the people, you need to get to know them to see the true picture. The best places to meet the real Minsk are Cultural Center Korpus and Kastrychnitskaya Street – the core of contemporary art in Minsk. Visit them for the best street-art and galleries.
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