Ukrainian Artists Reflect on First Year of Invasion
Artists described a cold and lonely winter, making work by candlelight, and an acute sensitivity to the sounds of engines and explosions. Despite everything, they expressed hope and gratitude.
Daniel Spivakov. Courtesy Daniel Spivakov and Stallmann Galleries.
Today, Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its second year. Events have been organised around the art world to mark this sombre anniversary.
Among them is the exhibition Eternal February, which opens today at Ugallery in Tbilisi. It showcases multimedia work by Russian artist Alexei Garikovich, who fled to Georgia with his Ukrainian children after the invasion.
'I watched as the Putin regime turned stillborn ideas into a new ideology,' explained Garikovich, who was born in Moscow. 'I want to expose the nature of Putin's evil and its manipulative mechanisms. My hope is it will open someone's eyes.'
ArtEast Gallery in Berlin is opening the exhibition The Time Has Come in collaboration with Open Society Foundations to commemorate the anniversary. Featuring ten artists and duos, the exhibition seeks to capture the resilience of Ukrainians' artistic spirit even at wartime.
To support Ukrainian artists, ArtEast founders Cornélia Marang-Schmidmayr and Ivanna Bogdanova-Bertrand believe that 'the most important thing is still that we listen to the artists, that we adapt to their specific needs (mobility, flexibility, stability) and allow them to work.'
Based in Sarajevo, Pinchuk describes a 'period of unscrambling' after the invasion, 'figuring out what I could pour my grief and anger and resistance into, and figuring out what I had to do to stay afloat', both spiritually and practically.
'I think to make it through this time you have to have a wild amount of hope,' she said. 'And that's what art is — hope and refuge for the soul.'
Artist WAONE described difficult conditions on returning to his Kyiv studio in December 2022 after travelling to Paris to paint a mural.
'During blackouts we had no water, no centralised heating in the studio or at home, no internet and cellphone connection,' he said. Works created then were 'painted by candlelight.'
WAONE is now back in France, where he's working on an exhibition with art print store Idem Paris.
Given the conditions in Ukraine, it's no surprise that many artists have had to move their practice abroad.
Berlin-based painter Daniel Spivakov left before the war, but its effects are still painfully present in his life and work. Defining art as an 'act of radical hope', he shows no signs of slowing down despite the horrors at home.
Spivakov explains, 'There's been no time in my life when that hope is needed more than now, and so I never made more paintings than I have since the war began.'
His macabre paintings will be on display in two exhibitions next month: a London solo show by emerging art dealer Martin Schlombs, followed by his museum debut in the group show Chronorama Redux at Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
While many have become refugees, others, like artist Tiberiy Szilvashi, have had to remain in Ukraine. He describes a lonely, freezing winter, the streets beyond his Kyiv studio barren.
'You begin to distinguish sounds,' he explained. 'Distinguish the sounds of the engine of cars; military diesel or passenger car, earthly or heavenly sounds. The sound of a helicopter, the sound of a rocket. Distance to explosions.'
Nevertheless, Szilvashi finds hope in the 'worldwide solidarity' that has developed since Russia invaded Ukraine one year ago.
'I thank all acquaintances and strangers,' he said. 'I felt your touch on my hand that was outstretched to you. And I feel it now.' —[O]
Additional reporting by Sam Gaskin