Neeti Sivakumar

Only Love Will Save Us

Immersive video installation

Team: Dror Margalit, Mary Mark , and Neeti Sivakumar 

Exhibited at
NYU ITP Winter Show, 2022

Today, people across the world continue to fight for basic human rights. Brave individuals lead and inspire protest movements, in many cases risking their freedom and lives for speaking out. “Only Love Will Save Us” is an immersive video installation that tells the story of Maria Kalesnikava, one of the three women who, in the summer of 2020, led the protest movement against longtime Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko after he rigged the presidential election in his favor.

Photograph: Stills of exhibit at NYU ITP Winter Show 2022

Context: This piece is a tribute to Maria and other political prisoners who sacrificed their freedom to retain their voice and stand up to dictatorships. Shortly after the elections in Belarus, Maria was unjustly imprisoned and is now serving an 11-year sentence. In this interactive installation, one person needs to temporarily ‘sacrifice’ their freedom to amplify and tell Maria’s story. They volunteer to go inside of a human-sized box, representing a jail cell, where they have to stay for a period of ~2 minutes so that people on the outside can hear and see Maria’s story. When the person is inside, an animation is projected on the outside of the box for the rest of the audience to see. Inside of the box, the voluntarily confined person can explore information, quotes and news articles pasted on the walls about Maria Kalesnikava and the opposition movementment in Belarus. This piece was first exhibited at the ITP Winter Show in December 2022.

The video that is projected on the outside of the box includes excerpts of Maria’s various speeches accompanied by an animation captured with Motion Capture and rendered in Unity (full video shown below). Throughout the story, Maria’s talks about the government’s attempts to turn people against each other through violence and imprisonment; she also urges people not to give into aggression, to support and love each other, and to rebuild the country with legal and peaceful means. The animation shows a person (i.e., a point cloud figure) who starts in a jail cell, but then walks out into a field of flowers (symbolic for Belarusian protesters). The animation ends with the figure back in the jail cell that is now covered with flowers – a symbol for Maria’s message and a shift of perspective in people’s minds.

Photograph: Stills of exhibit at NYU ITP Winter Show 2022

Video: Immersive video installation, Music Credit: Gold by Florent Ghys