Yana Barinova
Apr 9, 2014 8:58AM

The current tense political issues in Ukraine have had a profound infulence on the country in the last six months. Events in the heart of Kiev as well as power clashes in other regions have been a new source of reflection for journalists and artists. Change can bring not only new experiences, but also result in significant losses. Ukraine was forced to abandon some of the major cultural events under the pressure of revolutionary actions. Artists are increasingly filling their works with political content, musicians are creating new songs, critics are writing manifestos, social networks are exploding with an endless stream of contradictory news. Painted shields and helmets, the piano at the barricades and caricatures of politicians have become a new cultural trend of modern Ukraine. One thing is absolutely clear - all art figures are united by a sincere and common idea. And we can say that after the revolution cultural developments have become much more critical and thoughtful. What is the state of contemporary art in Ukraine?  Can we say that socio-political acts have become artistic gestures? We have tried to answer these questions, looking through some of the highlights in the political culture of the new Ukraine.


A great loss is the Kyiv Biennale. "A difficult political and economic situation", according to representatives of the Art Arsenal, was the main reason for the cancellation of the Second Kyiv International Biennale of Contemporary Art «ARSENALE». The exhibition was to be held in autumn 2014 and has been moved to 2015. The international curators of the project - the Austrians Georg Schöllhammer and Hedwig Saxenhuber - approved the decision. According to the organizers of ARSENALE, while the fate of the country is being decided, "one cannot speak about a quality preparation for such a large-scale art project." The first time ARSENALE took place was in 2012 and it was attended by about 100 artists from 30 countries .


Previously on the day before the "GRAND and GREAT" exhibition (dedicated to the 1025th anniversary of the "Christianization" of Kievan Rus) Director of Art Arsenal Natalia Zabolotnaya destroyed the work of the young artist Volodymyr Kuznetsov "The Judgment Day" by covering it with black paint. The initial concept of the work was to tell about the events in a small Ukranian city where citizens stormed the police department, demanding justice after a 29 -year-old woman was brutally raped and beaten by police officers. As a result, the artist responded by painting figures of the worthless sinners on a white wall - officials, corrupt deputies and unscrupulous priests of Ukraine. The emotional act of Ms. Zabolotnaya caused a flurry of social - media protests. The whole art community has been buzzing ever since. «Arsenal tries to bypass the main issue - censorship, trying to transform the situation in the field of personal relationships, misunderstandings between the artist and the curator,  referring to artist's desire "to make PR." The painting was not finished, but one of its ideas - building horizontal relationships in society, the expansion of such links occurs in reality, now, and in this sense, the work continues to exist and operate, recalling the responsibility of each for their actions.» - says Volodymyr. After this work was vandalized, a series of debates on the conflict arose which continue today, trying to examine censorship in Ukraine. But one of the most painful reactions was a letter from Boris Groys, at that time the curator of the Second Kyiv Biennale, to Natalia Zablotnaya stating that "the Ukrainian art scene is totally focused on its own internal problems, so I do not see the possibility of organizing a serious international discussion program in such circumstances", caused Boris Groys to be replaced by new Austrian curators. However this wasn't enough to ensure the project.


Lavra City Gallery, one of the biggest art areas in Ukraine, has represented powerful exhibition of young artists «And Now? The power of Art» curated by Rainald Schumacher, who is currently responsible for film program of Manifesta'14.The concept reflects Ukrainian Art at the moment of crisis and mourning. Here, the curator asks pointed questions. What is now? What are the artists doing? Not in their practical, political, social and civil engagement, but in their very own field the visual arts? And what role can contemporary art play in a society which tries to overcome the old and case-hardened political structures to create a transparent, open-minded and forward thinking new political system? «It is not only an exhibition. It is also a workshop for the public to become part of an atmosphere where the reflection about our reality, and the understanding of complexity and discrepancy are the base for any opinion about our world.» - says an independebt curatot and writer Rainals Schumaher. Certainly some of the works are influenced by Maidan or are reflections of the traumatic events. But artists are not limited to this political tremor. The project is focused on a small group of artists, among them there are: Anatoly Belov, Daniil Galkin, Ksenia Hnylytskaya, Leshia Khomenko, Mariia Kulikovskaya, Sergey Popov, Volodymyr Kuznetcov as well. All are part of a promising younger generation, which will significantly shape the visual culture of the coming years.

The Victor Pinchuk Foundation

One of the most important events for young artists in Ukraine is being nominated for the Victor Pinchuk Foundationaprivate nationwide contemporary art prize in Ukraine for young Ukrainian artists up to 35. All artists with the support of the PinchukArtCentre produce new works showing their most advanced artistic position. Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova has won the $12,500 the PinchukArtCentre Prize 2013. Kadyrova takes a new step in her artistic practice, resuming the lost tradition of mosaics, which can be found in public spaces all over the former Soviet Union. Her work “Monumental Propaganda” reflects critically on the changed use of images inside the public space and the decaying heritage of former soviet traditions. The firs specila prize recieved The Open Group consistingof five artists. The second Special Prize was awarding to Lada Nakonechna and the third Special Prize was awarded to Daniil Galkin for his work “Tourniquet”. The Public Choice Prize went to Anatoly Belov for his musical film “Sex, Medicamentary, Rock'n'roll.” Works from time-based media (film/video), to painting, drawing and sculpture define the wide scope of artistic means. The winners have been selected and announced by 7 international jury members. Summing up the Jurors said: “We have greatly enjoyed learning about the work of these artists.  We were impressed by the quality each work as well as by the multiplicity of positions and approaches of the artists presented and we hope the calibre of the work in this prize will also encourage artists of the upcoming generation.”


Not long ago a petition appeared online demanding a boycott of the festival in St. Petersburg until "Russian troops leave Ukraine", they asked to reschedule the festival "Manifesta 10", which was supposed to start in St. Petersburg in June 2014. The date is extremely important, as coincides with the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage and the 20th anniversary since the Biennale was established. The participants expressed the view that involvement in cultural activities with Russia at this time implies acceptance of Russian aggression towards the democratic nation of Ukraine. But the curators of the “Olympics of contemporary art” have a different opinion. They explained their position that cancelling the project might be seen now as a continuation of the in the spirit of the “Cold War” rhetoric and is not an appropriate response to the current geopolitical situation. Manifesta will continue monitoring the situation in Ukraine and they are hopeful for a successful diplomatic solution and peaceful outcome.

However the primary war today is an information war. Obviosly, media and social networks manipulate the minds of millions. It is worth recalling the iconic movie "Wag the Dog". A similar thing is happenning now in the cultural landscape of Ukraine and shifts every day. But Ukraine gives a lot more chances to develop creative initiatives than any other country. Ukraine is an unplowed field with a hungry audience. People need to learn to trust each other and to direct all their energy into new creation, then the liberalization of its life and culture will certainly happen.

More about Ukrainian Artists in my Blog 

Photographs provided by the PinchukArtCentre © 2013. Photographed by Sergey Illin

Photographs provided by Volodymyr Kuznetcov

Yana Barinova