Alexander Novikov and Elena Karpilova, heads of the Architectural Thinking School for Children, curators of the "Bambini Ovunque - Children Everywhere"
Alexander Novikov and Elena Karpilova, founders of the Architectural Thinking School for Children, curators of the "Bambini Ovunque - Children Everywhere"

Curators are foreigners.

Good day, dear reader,

We are Elena and Alexander, founders of the Architectural Thinking School for Children, and we are foreigners and migrants. One day, we decided to create our own independent pavilion during the Venice Biennale—the Foreign Pavilion—where we give voice to our students aged 6-14 from different countries, foreigners, and migrants like ourselves.

Dear reader,
We don't ask you to disclose your nationality, age, or race, or provide a passport. The same applies in our school and everyday life.

We don’t represent any particular country in Venice, and we don’t recognize the importance of dividing architecture, art, and people by nationality in the 21st century.

Being proud of one's homeland and being an instrument of the country in a commercialized competition are not the same thing.

What we want to represent in our Foreign Pavilion are the different voices of children who are currently living all over the world, who are in search of their home, identity, and have a lot to think and say. We are foreigners and, at the same time, ordinary people like all of you. One day we had a home, and another day we lost it.

Dear reader,
Here is our short story of how we became foreigners.
Starting from 2021, we decided to move from Belarus because of the high level of political repression. Currently, there are nearly 1500 political prisoners officially recognized, but unofficially, the number exceeds 4500. Feeling the daily pressure, facing threats, and experiencing a general sense of unsafety, we made the decision to leave the country. After careful consideration, we chose Portugal due to its high level of architectural culture, and we were fortunate to have colleagues from Lisbon who were ready to help.

We prepared step by step, with the responsibility of finishing the School's academic year 2021/2022 in mind.
However, our plans suddenly changed due to the war in Ukraine.
In March 2022, 75% of our current students, along with their families, fled Belarus.
On March 3, 2022, we also fled the country where our school had been operating since 2016, without having obtained an EU visa. During this period, at the beginning of the war, people had to wait for an EU visa for up to 6 months, and some embassies even refused to accept visa applications. Therefore, we decided to seek refuge in Uzbekistan. We spent 1 month there and then another month in Kyrgyzstan.

We could not organize any online activities there because the internet was poor, and all our students were worried about their lives and searching for new homes all over the world—online classes were not their priority, understandably. Nevertheless, we managed to organize a few activities for local children in Uzbekistan, which took place in a hostel and the yard where these children spent most of their time, without relying on gadgets.

But our main goal was to go to Portugal.

We already had an invitation from the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

We applied to all embassies from Uzbekistan, but unfortunately, they all refused to accept our documents, and some of them replied in a very rude tone.

So, the only possibility we had was to go back to Belarus and try to get visas from there.
In May 2022, we managed to do it, and on May 8, we arrived in Lisbon.

We had no flat, just a few suitcases with us.

When we somehow arranged our lives, we started to think about what we could do not only for ourselves but also for others. We witnessed many families from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia who had moved to Portugal and were suffering due to the loss of their homes. Just like us.
We decided to organize a series of events that could help children feel comfortable in the new, far away country, which has now become their new home.

Workshops on local architecture, tours to local museums, workshops on mapping and studying Lisbon etc.

We had no money or funds to support our living or sponsor any of our programs. So, we simply announced our idea on Facebook.

One person from Belarus wrote to me that she wants to support us. We found it interesting: a person from a country stuck in the midst of this disastrous war; a person whose children had visited our school in Minsk, and who had now also moved to Portugal. So, we started a project.

The space was provided by the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.
During the summer of 2022, we conducted more than 30 workshops.
At first, there was a shade of mistrust among the participants, which we completely understood. They were curious about who we were, who the other kids would be (as our workshops lasted 3-5 hours), how we would treat them, and what topics we would discuss.

We had to consult with psychologists frequently due to the specific situation and context we were working with. Their expert input helped us create a safe space of respect for each other.

We never asked or discussed the origin of the children; kids from any country could participate in our program.

We involved local teenagers in the program, so they could interact with the migrants and share their experiences as well.

With the students, we also explored Portugal, its culture, and art, and the city of Lisbon. We treated students as equals, as fellow young explorers.
The children began making new friends during our classes, and their parents did too.

Friends are also part of feeling at home.

At some point, parents started asking about the possibility of donating money to support the project and allow it to continue. Thanks to these donations, we were able to conduct 8 more workshops.
In September, we started our new academic year, but unfortunately, it was lacking financing, and therefore was not free, so not everyone could attend.

Many students who were with us a year ago have received their residency cards, making them somewhat Portuguese. Some students, especially Ukrainians, returned back home, and perhaps we will never see them again. Those who stayed in Portugal will most likely become part of a new generation of Portuguese and will participate in a kind of social remapping of Europe, triggered by the war in Ukraine.
School Exhibition Openning in Lisbon
We continue to work in Portugal. Unfortunately, we haven't had a chance to visit relatives in Belarus, and they cannot cross the border to visit us due to political circumstances. We don't know when we'll see each other again.
Made on