Honoring Heorhii Narbut: the making of a Ukrainian brand

The cover of the English-language book about Narbut  


Article by: Marta Farion 

On Nov. 7 the Chicago-based Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) hosted “Honoring Heorhii Narbut.”

This event was part of the Narbut XXI project, one of Ukraine’s continued efforts to share its cultural heritage with the world which includes a partnership of RODOVID Press and UIMA.

The project, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Narbut’s death, initially was envisioned to include a multi-week exhibition of Narbut’s work hosted by UIMA. Numerous challenges arose, however, because of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on communications and meetings. Ultimately, plans for UIMA’s multi-week exhibition was re-envisioned as a one-day socially distanced event, “Honoring Heorhii Narbut.” I had the opportunity to attend the event.

The event featured a debut screening of the 40-minute film documentary “Brendari” (Brand Makers) by Nadia Parfan exploring Narbut’s influence on generations of artists and the current brand-makers of Ukraine. In “Brendari,” Pavlo Vrzhesch, the creative director of Banda, an award-winning marketing and advertising agency, acknowledged the influence of Narbut on their work stating:

“What I love the most about the works of Narbut is his courage and compelling dynamism. Narbut shows the difference between good and great, between a great talent and a good one.”

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

Two guest speakers were also part of the program including art historian Dr. Myroslava M. Mudrak, author of the recently published “The Imaginative World of Heorhii Narbut and the Making of a Ukrainian Brand,” and RODOVID Press editor and publisher Lidia Lykhach.

Dr. Mudrak’s comments explored the Narbut’s important design achievements creating the government’s logo and seals, the letterhead for its charters, and the government’s official stationery as well as a line of postage stamps and paper currency that would replace the Russian ruble with Ukrainian karbovantsi.”

Design of a UNR banknote by Narbut

Logo of the UNR’s State Secretariat, designed by Narbut

Ms. Lykhach’s likened Narbut’s influence to that of Bauhaus, because he created a brand, a recognizable style that has been followed by a school of artists that influenced graphic art in Ukraine to the present day.

Narbut studied and worked among artists in Saint Petersburg and later in Germany, yet he went on to create a stylized brand uniquely Ukrainian, the global significance of which continues today. With that in mind, UIMA has created a page on its website, UIMA-Chicago.org commemorating the Nov. 7 event and featuring photos and recorded comments from the event, as well as a link to the documentary “Brendari”. I heartily encourage everyone, from graphic designer, to art historian and anyone interested in learning more about an important part of Ukrainian history and identity to check it out.

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Narbut’s artwork. Photos courtesy of RODOVID press

After one hundred years, Narbut’s work is still so cool. That is one incredible legacy.

Marta Farion is an attorney who is president of Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America, an organization that supports Ukraine’s oldest university and educational reforms. She writes about education as the most powerful force to prepare new leaders that can change Ukraine and the world.

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