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 11.

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 in 1997-2000.

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 heavily radiated.

Presently, over 500,000 children still live in the Chernobyl affected areas, according to the United Nations.

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 contamination.

"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 long ago."

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.



Send to:
The Chicago Athenaeum
601 South Prospect Street
Galena, IL 61036
Tel: 815/777-4444
Fax: 815/777-2471

Main Page About the MuseumBoard of Directors/Trustees and Museum Staff
Upcoming Events
American Architecture Good Design Awards Landmark ChicagoInternational Sculpture Park
Children of Chernobyl
Good Design Store

GOOD DESIGN® is a registered trademark of
The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design.
All information and images on this website may not be used
without the permission of The Chicago Athenaeum.
The GOOD DESIGN logo was designed by Mort Goldshall in 1950.
website © 2001  The Chicago Athenaeum