CENSORED: a podcast on the relation between art and power in Russia

Censorship for the benefit of “protecting the common good” has been commonplace in Russian art for some considerable time now. From Stalin’s dictatorship to the controlling rule of Cold War Soviet Union, up to this very day, censorship and restrictions in the arts are still very much alive.

Russia and therefore the USSR has had major influence on modern arts. Whether it has been

the outcome of the ideology or for serving the authority, censorship constitutes an everlasting presence in Russian art scene. The relation between artists and the officials is therefore complex one in every aspect.  

During the Soviet Union, Artists had clear guidelines on what is tolerable and what is prohibited. In today’s Russia by contrast, this correlation has become much more complex and is developing its own nuances that are not always so clear.

Besides, the burden of redacting has been put on the shoulders of the creators, which implied a shift that did not happen without a transition era, notably the 90’s. This period is marked by the collapse of the rigid ideology of the USSR which paved the way to freedom of expression.  But not so long after, this illusion of liberty collapsed as well. In that sense, the 90’s Russian art era is quite peculiar, where for a moment artists were able to create without having to worry about censorship.

The “CENSORED” podcast is an attempt to dive deeper into this phenomenon, in order to understand and to offer an uncensored description of what has been the role of censorship in Russia. It is an attempt to describe how exactly it has been impacting the creative process, whether it was for better or worse, and in that regard, shed some light on some preconceived opinions about these limiting yet nourishing circumstances.

Why are the officials so concerned about the culture? Who are these silenced voices and why have they been censored? To get the answer to these questions, we invite you to listen to the “CENSORED”, available on all common podcast platforms.

If these uncut words have grabbed your attention, why not go a step further? Come and join the organized event “The Sound of Culture” to meet the team, learn about the process, and ask any questions you have over some drinks. If not, still come for the drinks and the music and check out other projects of our friends.

Time: Saturday afternoon 1st of May 2021

Address: Thermotechnisch Instituut, kasteelpark arenberg 41, 3001 heverlee

Instagram: @censoredpod

Facebook: @censoredpod

One book (on history), two lessons (for cultural studies)

Written by Prof. Jan Baetens

In the introduction to his book Historien public (“Public Historian”, Gallimard, 2010), Pierre Nora, best known for his research on memory (he coined the notion of “places of memory”), defines himself as follows: “I am not what is called a great historian, but I served history”. But there is more to learn in these pages, a self-edited anthology covering more than three decades of intellectual work and commitment, than this admirable mix of modesty and pride.

Let’s take for instance the first and last chapter of this 540 pages volume, the two bookends so to speak that both frame and support Nora’s commitment to publishing (as chief editor of humanities at Gallimard), teaching (as professor at the EHESS, also home to Roland Barthes and many other academics who could not find their way in the traditional university system) and researching (as one of the founding fathers of the post-Annales school of history).

The book opens with a reflection on the place of history in a society as well as a discipline that has radically moved away from the past and that is increasingly dominated by the sole concern of the present. In such a society where the past tends to vanish, the historian looses his or her privilege to address the new forms of historical experience: he or she has to share the public space of debate with other agents such as the witness, the judge, or the journalist –a situation that forces the historian to dramatically rethink the way in which history, which is now a history always in the making, is made in scientific terms.

Similar reflections apply to cultural studies. We are called to be committed and participant observers, but how can we make sure that our work does not coincide with the opinions and beliefs and desires of those we observe or live with? Why are we the ones to ask whether the subaltern can speak or not? And how to share the right to speak with others in ways that go beyond the mere juxtaposition of voices? How to merge the scholarly and non-scholarly voices?

The second lesson comes at the end of the book, in a brief essay on “virtue-ism” (literally: the attempt to do well). Here, Nora reflects on our obsession with good and evil, which has taken since quite some years a particular form, that of permanent indignation and no permanent accusation (which of course may turn into self-accusation) of everything that goes wrong in the world. Nora’s essay is not a critique of the “anti-dead white men” ideology that has now  become completely mainstream (and thus oppressing?), but a meditation on our impossibility to know what we mean by “good” (and of course the notion of “good” also involves that of “beautiful” and “true”). Since we have become unable to understand what is “good”, we try to fill this gap by chasing the “evil” wherever we see it (and evil is everywhere).

Here as well cultural studies has work to do. The discipline has been crucial in disclosing all kinds of evil, and that is a good thing. But it is time to make once again strong claims on what we may mean be good.

AIPI Summer School Ricerca a fumetti: generi, forme, declinazioni (“Comics research: genres, forms, declinations”)

The Italian ‘fumetto’ is, together with the American comics, the Franco-Belgian ‘bande dessinnée’ and the Japanese manga, one of the most prolific and internationally renowned traditions in the area of graphic narratives. Authors like Guido Crepax, Milo Manara or Hugo Pratt and characters such as Tex, Valentina, Corto Maltese, Diabolik or Dylan Dog (just to mention a few) are famous among comics lovers and experts worldwide. The crucial position occupied by Italian comics is confirmed by the publication, in 1969, of Poema a fumetti, an illustrated story by the literary author Dino Buzzati, which is now considered by scholars an antecedent of the graphic novel format. It is not a coincidence that, back in 1964, the semiologist Umberto Eco was one of the first to pay scholarly attention to the medium of comics in his Apocalittici e integrati, a collection of essays on popular culture. Nowadays, Italian graphic narratives are experiencing a second renaissance fostered by the growing popularity of the graphic novel. Contemporary Italian comic artists such as Zerocalcare, Gipi, Fumettibrutti are now national celebrities and comics festival are booming all around the peninsula (among other, Lucca Comics & Games, BilBolBul, Napoli Comicon, Etna Comics, Cartoomics, Romics, Ratatà).

Notwithstanding its undeniable achievements, the Italian fumetto keeps struggling when it comes to getting critical recognition from Italian or Italophone academic research. Recently, though, things are starting to change and several scholars are now showing a growing interest for the ninth art, as well as for the study of its resonance in Italian popular culture. Contributions coming from cultural studies, gender studies, migration studies, sociology, semiotics and narratology are enriching the research on the medium.

The AIPI Summer School Ricerca a fumetti: generi, forme, declinazioni (“Comics research: genres, forms, declinations”), which will be held at the Universiteit Gent (Belgium) from 12 to 15 July 2021, was created with the idea of bringing together early career researchers (doctoral or postdoctoral level) and include them into a recently created network of scholars working on Italian comics (SnIF: Searching’n Investigating Fumetti).  Participants will come from different geographical contexts and explore different methodologies, so that we can consolidate the academic study of comics as an independent (inter)discipline in the context of Italian-language scholarship.

During the four days of the School, participants will be able to take part in lectures that cover three different methodological approaches and will be organised in plenary sessions in the morning. The lectures will be by Prof. Sergio Brancato, Emiliano Chirchiano, Maheen Ahmed, Ivan Pintor Iranzo, Inge Lanslots and Natalie Dupré. Participants will also be able to participate in one of the five thematic workshops. These will be held on the first two afternoons (for a total of five hours). The last day is dedicated to a practical workshop on using comics to display one’s research and to the presentation by the participants of their research topic on comics. The programme is completed by a roundtable on diversity in Italian comics, a visit to the CBBB (Brussels Comics Museum) and the BD parcours (a walk through the streets of Brussels decorated with comics-themed murals).

The working language is Italian (only one of the lectures will be held in English). Applications can be filled through the application form on the School’s website; the deadline is 1 May 2021.

The organizers are constantly monitoring the evolution of the situation related to the Covid-19 pandemic and, although we are cautiously and carefully aiming to keep the School on campus, by June 10th the participants will be informed if the event will have to be postponed to July 2022.

If you have any doubts or further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at ricercaafumetti@ugent.be

Dr. Alessia Mangiavillano (Coventry University)

Dr. Dario Boemia (Università IULM)

Dr. Eva Van de Wiele (Universiteit Gent)

Dr Giorgio Busi Rizzi (Universiteit Gent)

Dr Nicoletta Mandolini (Universidade do Minho)

Bearing Questions: An Incomplete Guide to Motherhood

Do you want to be a parent?

How do you know when you’re ready?

Do you really know when you’re ready?

What’s stopping you? What’s pushing you?

What impact might your career, your age, your ethnic or racial background, your sexual identity or gender have on your decision?

These questions, along with many more, were the inspiration behind Anaïs Van Eycken’s latest choreographic work: Matki. A solo dance performance which allows the audience to turn a critical eye to the theme of motherhood.

In collaboration with Matki, a group of students from KU Leuven have created a project to start a new type of conversation around Motherhood. What began as an attempt to answer these questions, to navigate a pathway through the topic of Motherhood, only resulted in even more questions and even less of a sense of direction. It soon became clear that these questions can’t be answered. They should, in fact, be celebrated. There is something beautiful in allowing questions to be unanswerable, in questioning the questions and in accepting the uncertainty.

The topic of Motherhood needs to be opened into a conversation, a multitude of voices, a storm of questions without answers and without the pressure to be ‘correct’.

Bearing Questions is a platform where this new type of conversation can take place. It does so by going back to the basics: the letter. Bearing Questions is a letter writing chain: each letter contains a new question around motherhood and a new voice which questions the question that came before. Basically it is a lot of questions and a lot of non-answers!

This chain reflects the process of developing this project, the fact that talking about motherhood is mainly a process of one question leading to another, and another and another. Never really coming to a definite or ‘right’ answer.

These letters will be published online on our digital book: Bearing Questions: An Incomplete Guide to Motherhood.This book opposes the majority of handbooks about motherhood – and there are many – by raising questions, not answering them. It pieces the letter chains back together, allowing the reader to follow the development of each question. To see how one idea can flourish when so many voices are heard. When there is no pressure to be ‘right’ and where no answer can be ‘wrong’. The publication will remain a ‘work in progress’ that can be continuously added to, because the conversation around Motherhood can never be, or should never be, completed. Bearing Questions extends Matki into something more than the performance itself, bringing it into the community and making culture a conversation, not just an event.


The premiere of Matki will be taking place online on 26th March 2021, along with an aftershow talk. You can get your tickets here!

The digital publication: Bearing Questions: An Incomplete Guide to Motherhood goes live on 2nd April. To get a reminder when it’s published, just sign up here.


To participate in the Bearing Questions letter chain, please contact us on Instagram or via email at hello@bearingquestions.com. Mother, father, woman, man, trans, nonbinary, straight, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual and any label or nonlabel in between… we welcome your voice in the conversation.

The Pill Expo | The contraceptive pill, a 20th century game changer

Why was the birth control pill a game changer in the twentieth century and why has it become even more controversial today? These are the central questions we discuss and try to answer through our exhibition.

With this exhibition we want to show the history of contraception and how it was life-changing for women. The expo will address topics like the pill-taking in the twentieth century, the role of the pharmaceutical industry in shaping the understanding of the pill by the public and the influence it had on social and religious lives.

Our first brainstorming session was in October 2020 after our group, based on the members’ interests and preferences, was assigned the project Europeana XX: Century of Change with the goal to create a digital exhibition. The theme had to be of our common choice as long as it fell under the category of A game changer of the 20th century, something that shaped the world to what it is today in its respective area. We quickly realized that themes related to gender were present among everyone’s proposals and that all members found this broad topic very interesting, identifiable and important. As a group of six young women from various backgrounds, inclined towards liberal ideologies and pro-body-choices, we all enthusiastically agreed the The Pill was the best topic to represent.

It is a matter of gender equality in a wider sense. A societal change that tackled the way of living for millions of women who for the last six decades have now the choice and power to effectively control their fertility. Who are consequently empowered and in charge of their personal, social, professional, educational and political aspirations.

By devoting this exhibition to contraceptive pills as a game changer during the previous century, we intend to touch upon the history of contraception and how it rewrote the fate of women’s lives. Today’s rights and the right of choice were not always a given, on the contrary. They were and had to be fought for, by generations of women and their allies. At the same time, we want to show there is a lot of controversy around the pill as we can detect today under the prism of a new century and a new generation of feminism.

As none of us have ever done a task similar to an online exhibition, it will be of a great learning potential and experience for all of us. Europeana represents a wide variety of heritage objects (over 50 million). We find this opportunity to be a great challenge to assemble pieces of history, social and political debates, photographs and quotes to try and represent these magnificent stories that shifted reality from what it was, and still continues to do so. We want this exhibition to be a reminder of the events that lead to the creation of The Pill, how it changed the world and the impact it still has today. Certain social and political changes accompanied the contraceptive pills. We want to share these stories and show how these were depicted during different times. 

A digital exhibition is not a social history book. We want to give a hint to what happened, and establish that the concerns, the conservative opinions, even the backlash are still happening. We intend to contribute to the emancipation of women by creating an alternative online exhibition with important, carefully selected content for art lovers in these difficult times. People very much still, if not more, want culture.  

So, we expect everyone to join us in this journey of discovery of women’s needs and accomplishments regarding their emancipation. Hopefully to be inspired by the material selected and face today’s challenges of equality, feminism, emancipation and human rights, with a more informed eye.

The exhibition launches 9th April so mark it in your calendars and we’ll see you there!

In the meantime, you can find us on social media:

Facebook: The Pill Expo (https://www.facebook.com/The-Pill-Expo-109756864504540)

Instagram: @the_pill_expo (https://www.instagram.com/the_pill_expo/)

Twitter: @ExpoPill (https://twitter.com/ExpoPill)

Isn’t it just a book with pictures? PHOTO-LIT: Photonovel Culture in Belgium

Interested in photography and stories? Ever heard of photonovels?

We are eleven Cultural Studies Master’s students at KU Leuven and we are proud to invite you to a special exhibition on the topic of Belgian photonovels.

“This collection is an absolute novelty, never been described nor disclosed before.” -Clarissa Colangelo

That’s right, from March 19th to May 8th, the PHOTO-LIT exhibition is the place to be! So, come join us Monday through Friday, from 10h to 17h, and Saturdays from 11h to 16h, at the KU Leuven University Library, then take a peek into the past through a carefully curated collection of photonovels.

You can admire it for only 2 euros, or for no price at all if you show your KU Leuven card. At the library, if time allows, there is other heritage to see, such as the old reading room.

Sure… but, what is a photonovel?

Basically, a photonovel is usually a romantic story  told with the use of successive photographs depicting scenes and situations in the order in which they occur. The photographs portray actors that make use of speech bubbles as they need to talk to each other, or to show what they are thinking. Sometimes there is a textual narrator to complement the ideas that cannot be conveyed by the dialogue and thoughts.

The beginning has a closure.

The project PHOTO-LIT which aims to put the photonovel genre back in the spotlight, originated in 2017 with the participation of KU Leuven, the University of Liege, BELSPO and the Royal Library (KBR). Nevertheless, it is very current right now because it is being incorporated into an exhibition due to Clarissa Colangelo’s doctoral dissertation which has been submitted this spring 2021.

Then, is there a lot to learn?

Of course, the exhibition revolves around the Belgian photonovel, showcasing the results of the research with examples of photonovels that were published in Belgium in the 1950s and 60s. There are many answers waiting to be discovered by people, about photonovels: When and where were they published? Who created them? How were they made? And who were their readers?

Visitors to the exhibition will be taken back in time to the beginnings of the photonovel, where its origins and evolution are revisited, uncovering its most famous and prolific creators in Belgium, and explaining their behind-the-scenes photos.

Cultural Studies Master’s students at KU Leuven take you to a place where past and present are linked together through a photonovel reenactment especially created for the exhibition. The photonovel not only uses modern technologies, but also defies the difficulties posed by the pandemic, and modernizes themes and poses of the past. This photonovel reenactment covers topics such as gender and sexuality; showing that photonovels do not have to remain in the forgotten pit of oblivion but can certainly be a hit in our days.

Besides, there is an interactive exhibition where people get souvenirs and a copy of the photonovel to take home.

Not convinced yet?

Keep in mind that the exhibition is the perfect opportunity to discover, with your parents and/or grandparents, or just your friends, in a corona-safe space, a piece of lost Belgian culture.

Do you need more reasons to assist?

There are magazines, photonovels, photographs and preparatory material that has never before been exhibited; partly digitized, with the aim of acquainting visitors with the masterfully digitized collection of photonovels resulting from the efforts of the KBR within the project.The exhibition is also trilingual (Dutch, French and English) so many of you will enjoy it in your own language.

Remember that we want to share our work with you…

The exhibition is curated by Clarissa Colangelo under supervision of project coordinator Jan Baetens. It is organized in collaboration with a group of students following the MA Cultural Studies at the KU Leuven, and the University Library of Leuven. Divided in groups, the students took care of Project Assistant ((Iza Moreno Reyes), Scenography (Elise Peeters, Felien Vandermotten, Stephanie Silva Chaparro, Xinyi Jiang, and Xiuyi Huang), Policy and Publicity (Lisa Albornoz Muñoz, and Liujun Shang), and reenactment (Jenske Verhamme, Jiaqi Li, and Lia Herbots).


Follow our socials!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photolitbrain/ / @photolitbrain 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/photo_lit_belgium/ / @photo_lit_belgium

Website: https://www.photolit-brain.com/photo-lit-exhibition


KU Leuven University Library, Leuven

21 Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein 3000 Leuven, Belgium

Dates & Opening Hours;

March 19th to May 8th

Monday-Friday: 10h to 17h

Saturdays: 11h to 16h

“Euro Noir: Transcultural Identities in European Popular Crime Narratives”: Enroll now!

The crime genre, arguably the most popular narrative genre in Europe, is an ideal object of study for evaluating how the process of Europeanisation has impacted the forms of cultural production, distribution and reception.

Have you ever wondered what has made crime narratives so popular throughout Europe? If yes, this course is a perfect fit for you!

A new collaborative project funded by the European Union’s “Horizon 2020” research and innovation programme has taken up the challenge to investigate how the concept of ‘Europe’ can help to better understand the current landscape of popular media and transmedia crime narratives.

What you’ll learn:

  • To reflect on the multiple ways in which crime narratives represent social and historical realities
  • To think of the crime genre as a form of social criticism
  • To understand how crime narratives are used by different European communities to express their local, national or regional cultural identity
  • To recognize how crime narratives contribute to represent transcultural identities that cut across national and linguistic boundaries
  • To analyse the evolution and transformation of European transcultural identities through the circulation of popular narratives across different countries and media
  • To interpret how historical and political events influenced the representation of European society in crime narratives

If you would you like to discover the crime genre while navigating through Europe, then enroll now and take this course for free.

This MOOC has been developed as part of the European project DETECt,funded by European Union Horizon 2020, and realized through collaboration between KU Leuven and four other European universities (University of Limoges, University of Bucharest, University of Debrecen, University of Aalborg and University of Bologna).

Belgian photonovels on display in Leuven!

A piece of good news in these strange times: in two weeks’ time the exhibition “Photo-Lit: Photonovel Culture in Belgium” opens its doors at the University Library of Leuven!

The exhibition is the closing event of the four-year-long Photo-Lit project. It revolves around the Belgian photonovel, showcasing the results of our research and disclosing the immense corpus of photonovels that have been published in Belgium from the 1950s. Where were these photonovels published? When? Who created them? How were they made? Who were the readers of photonovels? The exhibition tackles these and more questions, bringing visitors back in time to the beginnings of the photonovel, recounting its origins and evolution, uncovering its most famous and prolific creators in Belgium, and diving into its making of with storyboards and behind-the-scenes photos. Past and present are linked together through a photonovel reenactment especially created for the exhibition that uses modern technologies, defies the difficulties posed by the pandemic, and remixes and modernizes themes and poses of the past.​

The collection showcased is partly physical, consisting of magazines, photonovels, photographs and preparatory material that has never before been exhibited; partly digitized, with the aim of acquainting visitors with the masterfully digitized collection of photonovels resulting from the efforts of the KBR within the project.

The exhibition is curated by Clarissa Colangelo under supervision of project coordinator Jan Baetens. It is organized in collaboration with a group of students following the MA Cultural Studies at the KU Leuven, and the University Library of Leuven. Divided in groups, the students took care of scenography (Elise Peeters, Felien Vandermotten, Stephanie Silva Chaparro, Xinyi Jiang, and Xiuyi Huang), policy and publicity (Iza Moreno Reyes, Lisa Alexandra Albornoz Muñoz, and Liujun Shang), and reenactment (Jenske Verhamme, Jiaqui Li, and Lia Herbots).

The exhibition will be kicked off by a Facebook Live on March 18th at 19h. Be sure to check out our Facebook page and Facebook event for more info and the streaming link.

From March 19th, the exhibition will be open Monday to Friday from 10h to 17h, and Saturday from 11h to 16h.

See you all there!