Search Menu

Article: Janina Sabaliauskaite Interview

Dyke Power, 2021 © Janina Sabaliauskaite
Posted on: 9 January 2023

Dean Pape interviews Janina Sabaliauskaite about her exhibition SENDING LOVE at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (within National Glass Centre), Sunderland.



Dean Pape:  Your exhibition SENDING LOVE is currently being shown in the NGCA Collection Space, many congratulations!
The inclusion of photographs made over the last 7 years, as well as recently made work, gives the viewer an insight into your journey of discovering yourself and your community. Was this your intention?

Janina Sabaliauskaite:  Yes, this exhibition is a personal reflection on my journey as an artist, a creator and a collaborator. I wanted to show the important and treasured moments I shared with people who inspired me, opened up to me, and who I admire and love but also to be visible myself. Having met those people prompted me to fully accept who I am. Selecting the photographs for SENDING LOVE was a complicated and intense process because, over the years, I have taken so many photographs, and each one of them speaks of a beautiful, meaningful connection. I knew I wanted to create a show which is celebratory, but also focus on intimacy and sensuality.

DP:  Could you talk a little about your installation and curation of the NGCA Collection Space – it’s a circular, darkened and perhaps intimate space and you present a range of photographic approaches and formats. How did you approach curating the work?

JS:  I was playing with a given space – I wanted it to feel organic, create a flow, a collage of my life. It was interesting to think outside the white cube. I am interested in archives. I wanted to include so much, like related materials, LGBT+ magazines, that I made with my friends, love letters, posters, but I had to stop myself. There is so much I want to celebrate. For example, community organising and community run spaces, like Emma Social Centre in Kaunas, Sapfo Queer Feminist Festival (the only one in Baltics), Išgirsti: Queer Archive in Vilnius, activities that happen in them, books, music, rich and vibrant and still underground culture.

DP:  I found it interesting that you also used the exterior walls of this space. Could you talk about where this meets the intention of the work potentially leading to access with wider audiences?

JS: SENDING LOVE consists of layers. On the outside, the viewer encounters empowerment, mostly life size portraits but when making a choice to enter the inside of the Collection Space, they are met with vulnerability and intimacy, they have to come closer, and see It is a division of public and private, and to show the private is a political statement in itself.

Homophobes Will Go to Hell © Janina Sabaliauskaite

Augustė, Emilija, Agota next to graffiti ‘’Homophobes Will Go to Hell’’, Kaunas, Lithuania, 2022 © Janina Sabaliauskaite

DP:  How important is collaboration in your practice?

JS: Collaboration is the key to my practice. Mutual respect, trust and ethics, and being able to listen and be heard are the factors which drive my work. I don’t photograph straight away. I like to get to know the person first.

My journey as a creator began with myself – through the photographic lens, I started exploring my sexuality. In the beginning, I was not sharing those photographs online but showing them to people close to me, and their response and support played a crucial role in me gaining the confidence to share my practice more openly. After graduating, I felt a little lost, I needed a community, I didn’t want to do the work only about myself. After moving to Newcastle, I fell in love with a woman for the first time, artist Jade Sweeting, we started collaborating, only then I started creating even more intimate photography, me and Jade started showing and talking about our love openly at talks and exhibitions, selling our work at book fairs. This is the kind of connection worth celebrating. The idea of inspiring each other and exploring with people I love and trust is at the core of my approach to photography.


DP:  Are you hoping that the work will travel to other venues?

JS:  Of course, as long as it’s taken seriously, with care and understanding and not being used as a tick for an inclusivity box. The next step for me personally is an exhibition at Drifts gallery later this year, in Vilnius, Lithuania, where I am from. I will be taking the work to its roots, creating new work in the meantime and giving back to the community, being visible together. It’s an exciting adventure, it will also include never shown before sexy mixed media pieces and archival materials.
In Lithuania, queer representation, the kind that the community deserves, is still pretty much invisible on the cultural scene, but we are, together with the community, pushing for it.

DP:  As a fellow graduate from the University of Sunderland, how is the experience of returning to exhibit work close-by in the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art?

JS:  I never really left Sunderland. After finishing the course, I started volunteering, later working at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art. It’s a world-renowned gallery and I always felt so inspired by the exhibitions there and that it had a strong focus on photography and film and artists’ books. I started working, meeting curators, professional artists, and collaborating with them. It was always an exciting, and nourishing place to be and I was learning loads and gaining skills. I had a dream to curate or show my work there and it happened. It came full circle.

DP: What are your hopes for the work in terms of developing visibility of the LGBTQ+ community both locally and internationally?

JS:  Visibility and accessibility of the representation mindful of the LGBTQ+ community, the kind of representation created with regard to how people want to be represented, is crucial, and by including it in their space, the galleries show that they recognize that importance. With SENDING LOVE I wanted to tell stories which are often overlooked or even purposefully excluded and denied the right to representation. The political message of SENDING LOVE is along the lines of “We are here, we are queer, and we need proper care, rights, and representation”. I want to celebrate the beauty of queer community, of people who deserve respect, show creative people and their unique lives, of our meaningful connections, and I would like the viewer to feel the spirit of the celebration.

DP:  Alongside exhibiting SENDING LOVE, you have curated another exhibition of works from the archive of Rimaldas Vikšraitis for the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art. Could you tell us a little about that process and how you see your role as a curator developing?

JS:  Rimaldas Vikšraitis practice is so broad and exciting. I wanted people to see his rich archives, to encounter his collaboration with a partner and artist Danutė Vikšraitienė, to screen his never before seen films but also to show what has been curated out of his practice before (in book format). I couldn’t believe how much focus is placed on the Grimaces of The Weary Village series, so when I encountered Homo Vikšraitis book (Kaunas Photography Gallery, 2017) – I straight away knew that I wanted to meet the artist and see more of his work. Not long after meeting, we straight away started photographing each other – hoping that this new collaborative work will be part of the upcoming book, which I am working on at the moment together with curator Alistair Robinson, photography historian and art critic Agnė Narušytė, and designer Joanna Deans.

As a curator, I am interested in collaborating with underrepresented artists, digging into the personal archives of people who might not yet be acknowledged by the art scene, and exploring the unique perspectives of those far from mainstream culture. I am most interested in personal archives. What we collect. How we document our lives. What we desire and fantasise about. Passion.

Janina Sabaliauskaite is a Lithuanian born and Newcastle based artist-photographer, researcher and independent curator.  SENDING LOVE, at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 15 January 2023, is her first UK solo exhibition,  a love letter to her transnational LGBTQ+ community presenting new and existing images from her personal archive. Showcasing portraits of dear and loved friends – a chosen family – SENDING LOVE seeks to mobilise and make visible queer-feminist lives in the pursuit of solidarity, emancipation and positive social change.

Dean Pape is a photographer and Intern at the Northern Centre of Photography, having graduated from the BA (Hons) Photography & Digital Imaging programme in 2022.