Documentary rediscovers iconic designer of 1917 Ukrainian state symbols. Watch it here

Heorhiy Narbut, the creator of the state symbols of the 1917 Ukrainian People's Republic, is the hero of the recent documentary Brendari 

Ukraine

Edited by: Sonia Maryn

2020 marks a century since the death of Heorhiy Narbut, a pioneer of Ukrainian graphic design. He created the state symbols of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1917, as well as Ukrainian banknotes and postal stamps. He also illustrated many books, including his famous Ukrainian Alphabet. Narbut devoted 15 pages of Alphabet to illustrate a wide variety of rare techniques that embodied countless characters in black and white which conveyed the charm of Ukrainian nature. This work was recognized as a true masterpiece.

His paintings were slated to be destroyed during the Soviet era, but were saved by the craftspeople of so-called special funds. Yet, Narbut is not merely a key figure of the history of art. He incorporated into his modern illustrations the tradition of the Ukrainian baroque of the 17th – 18th centuries. His style became a source of inspiration for contemporary Ukrainian artists, illustrators, and brand creators, who continue to draw upon history and venerable symbols in their works.

Dedicated and tireless director Nadiya Parfan immediately after the film’s shooting. Photo by Oleksandr Panasiuk.

As part of the project Narbut XXI, Ukrainian film director Nadiya Parfan, has produced the documentary Brendari that uses a series of interviews to meld the figure of Narbut with the history of Ukrainian branding from the period of the Ukrainian People’s Republic to the present.

“How did the coat of arms ‘tryzub’ evolve to what it is? Who designed our banknotes? What can Ukraine be proud of in a world where the Chinese do everything? Let’s go see our film Brendari,” says Parfan.

The project Narbut XXI marks a century since the death of Narbut. The project aims to reexamine his work, update his cultural legacy and his ideas to address contemporary design, and to present Narbut — one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century — to the world. The project was supported by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, and conducted in cooperation with Rodovid publishing house as well as the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago.

Photo of Heorhiy Narbut, Ukrainain painter and graphic designer in the early 20th century. Source:  Rodovid

Lydia Lykhach, project manager, founder and director of Rodovid publishing house, explains the project’s goal:

“Heorhiy Narbut is a great artist, a world-class figure, an entire epoch in the history of Ukrainian art. He laid the foundations of graphic design of the newly-created state of Ukraine. Narbut is one of the founders and first professors of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts, and in 1918 he was its rector for a brief period of time. The academy was the center of artistic life in Kyiv in 1917–1920. Narbut is the most prominent graphic artist of his time, who influenced Ukrainian graphics, font art, and book design of the twentieth century.

It is important for the project to prevent the cementing of Narbut’s image not only as an icon of the Ukrainian style. Instead, we seek to contextualize Narbut in the 21st century. Not only his creative work, but his innovative ideas, the search for a new visual language, and principles — rethinking the roots.”

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Examples of Narbut’s art

The project Narbut XXI started with the research conducted by Professor Myroslava M. Mudrak, The Imaginative World of Heorhii Narbut and the Making of a Ukrainian Brand.

“Now, with Ukraine’s future uncertain and the state’s identity under threat, a retrospective look at Narbut’s national branding is more relevant than ever. It concerns an urgent question — what is modern Ukrainian culture and who are contemporary Ukrainians? What is contemporary Ukraine’s brand? How does it affect the perception of Ukraine in the world?” These are the questions addressed by Mudrak.

The letter “з” from the Ukrainian alphabet by Heorhiy Narbut (1917).

Also, a virtual exhibition was conducted within the framework of the project and the film released.

“Brand Makers (Brendari) is a story about Ukraine’s visual identity and its evolution from Heorhii Narbut’s work in 1917–1920 to today,” commented the director of the film Nadiya Parfan.

The documentary combines a series of interviews with followers of Heorgiy Narbut that center on design and art schools in Ukraine. It features Ukrainian designers Pavel Vrzhesch from Banda Agency (Kyiv/San-Francisco), Mykola Shkvarok and Yevhen Yefimenko from the Brendari studio (Ivano-Frankivsk), and contemporary artist Oleh Tistol. The film also features Yuliya Lytvynets, director of the National Art Museum of Ukraine which has preserved Narbut’s works for more than 50 years in a special collection, as well as the editor of the Narbut Anthology, Bohdan Zavitii.

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Edited by: Sonia Maryn

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