Photo Essays

The Vanishing, Painted Bus Stops of Belarus

It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’ (all images courtesy Alexandra Soldatova)

We tend to think of bus stops as utilitarian pieces of public infrastructure, but in the eastern European country of Belarus, they’re works of art. Pretty birds, sunflowers, and glistening sunsets adorn their concrete walls — emblematic, photographer Alexandra Soldatova says, of the Belarussian desire to have everything looking “neat, clean, and beautiful.”

Soldatova photographed the bus stops for her series It Must Be Beautiful. She told Hyperallergic that the paintings first began appearing in the 1980s, when local officials commissioned artists to embellish the structures. Their motifs vary from region to region; flowers grace the ones around the eastern town of Orsha, while idealized landscapes dominate those along the southern road of Zitkovich Turov.

“In my work, I try to focus on things that distinguish Belarus from other countries,” Soldatova explained. The Minsk-based photographer sees the murals as representing her native country’s national aesthetic — also reflected in similarly painted stones that line some streets, as well as seasonal sculptures made from grass. She worries that it’s being lost.

“I have a fear that one day things like these will just disappear,” Soldatova said. Belarus no longer paints its bus stops; instead, it constructs them from the same drab metal and plastic found everywhere else. Though the murals have been well-preserved, they won’t survive forever. “I want to keep them in memory not only as physical objects, but also as cultural practices. That’s why I collect them [in pictures].”

It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It must be beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It must be beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It must be beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It must be beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It Must Be Beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
It must be beautiful
An image from ‘It Must Be Beautiful’
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