In 2013-14, Ukraine made headlines with the Euromaidan protests, and suddenly this long-forgotten country somewhere in Europe aroused global curiousity. This interest and the country’s exposure in world media have helped many Ukrainian artists to be seen and heard:
- Mariya Kulikovska’s unsanctioned performances Action 254 at the Manifesto’10 Biennale in St. Petersburg, Russia and her series of performances using soap sculptures in London, Malmo, Munich;
- Reconstruction of Memory, a curatorial project by Lia Dostlieva and Andriy Dostliev, which took place in Warsaw, Poznan and Prague;
- projects by the IZOLYATSIA Foundation (Culture and Conflict: IZOLYATSIA in Exile in Paris, Prague, Berlin and Košice, #onvacation at the 56th Venice Biennale).
There is no doubt that on the heels of the Revolution of Dignity the Ukrainian art and cultural scene began growing and developing in both diversity and scale. Probably the largest project outside Ukraine, which presented a new artistic chronology and attempted to form a new Ukrainian art canon, is the exhibition curated by Alisa Lozhkina and Kostiantyn Akinsha Permanent Revolution. Ukrainian Art Today at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest (2018). It was naturally followed by a sequel – the exhibition Between Fire and Fire. Ukrainian Art Today, held at the Semperdepot Gallery in Vienna (2019) with the support of the Ukrainian Institute and the Zenko Foundation. The project set a precedent and revealed a certain way of narrating the contemporary art scene in Ukraine.
Since 2014, Ukrainian art has been constantly present on specialized art platforms in other countries – from private galleries and cultural fairs to large biennials and festivals. To some extent, this is due to the fact that Ukrainian artists, who began creating in the 2000s, finally gained international recognition in 2010. In particular, we can point to Nikita Kadan’s solo exhibitions in Berlin (2014), London (2015), Ljubljana (2016), Vienna (2019) or Paris (2020), and Zhanna Kadyrova, who was invited to present her work at a solo exhibit during the 2019 Biennale in Venice.
A number of Ukrainian institutions have recently launched interesting international collaborations: in addition to the fore-mentioned IZOLYATSIA, it is worth noting the Center for Visual Culture (exhibition: Neighbours|Сусіди (2018) in Warsaw), the Kharkiv Municipal Gallery (exhibition project: I do not feel free to do what I want ( 2019−2021) in collaboration with the <rotor> art centre in Graz, Austria), the ARTSVIT gallery (online residence Перехід/Crossing for young German and Ukrainian artists), TYU platform (online residence Woven Network for seven artists from five European countries), etc.
The introduction of visa-free travel for Ukrainians and the appearance of low-cost carriers in Ukraine have facilitated travel for Ukrainian citizens, and have positively affected the mobility of both artists and curators. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has somewhat disrupted international travel and collaboration in the global art and music industry.
In recent years, Ukrainian artists have taken part in dozens of international art projects and exhibitions, but due to the unsystematic nature of such events, it is difficult to say to what extent they have increased the visibility of Ukrainian art abroad. Instead, we should focus on other phenomena, which is changing and will continue to change the perception of Ukrainian art and culture in the world.
Changes on the way!
The Euromaidan effect contributed to the emancipation of the Ukrainian art scene in post-Soviet space, where Russian art traditionally dominates. But, Ukraine has begun to renew, regain and reclaim its cultural heritage, which is often attributed to Russia.
One of the first “cultural conflicts” occurred when Ukrainian artists, critics and journalists began deconstructing the western-based concept of the “Russian avant-garde” and their appropriation of original Ukrainian, Polish, or Belarusian artists. Several events and measures have played a significant role in this deconstruction process:
- the publication in both French and English of such books as Ukrainian Artists of Paris 1900−1939 (Rodovid, 2010) and Kazymyr Malevych: Kyiv Period 1928−1930 (Rodovid, 2019);
- the organization of international conferences such as Kazymyr Malevych: Kyiv Aspect (2016);
- campaigns to correctly indicate the origin of specific artists in museum collections around the world, etc.
In addition, Ukraine has begun to broadcast certain cultural aspects of its Soviet legacy. Ukrainian mosaics created during the Soviet period have become a real international hit!
After the release of the album Decommunized: Soviet Ukrainian Mosaics (Osnovy, 2017), Dom Publishers in Germany released a guidebook Ukraine. Art for Architecture: Soviet Modernist Mosaics from 1960 to 1990 (2020), and in 2019 monumental mosaics appeared in the form of 3D projection mapping on the façade of the Leopold Museum in Vienna as part of Ukrainian Night, organized by the Ukrainian Institute.
Significant cultural phenomena also include the art produced by Ukrainian Sixtiers, who were distinguished by their liberal and anti-totalitarian views. The world can now get more acquainted with this period thanks to projects such as the 60s. The Lost Treasures, an onlineproject about artists of the 1960s, implemented within the program of the Ukrainian Institute Ukraine Everywhere, or the album The Art of the Ukrainian Sixties (Osnovy, 2021).
Soviet modernism reached another level in architecture, fully illustrated in Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-Modernism. Buildings and Structures in Ukraine 1955−1991 (Osnovy, 2019), Oleksiy Radynsky’s films Façade Colour: Blue (2019) and Circulation (2020), as well as Ukrainian Soviet graphic design (bilingual anthology Znak. Ukrainian Trademarks 1960−80s (IST Publishing, 2019) by the U,N,A team).
It is important to understood that before these books were published, the Ukrainian artistic community was either completely unknown outside of Ukraine, or was automatically identified as Russian. In recent years, Ukrainian researchers and curators have done a tremendous job to put Ukraine on the global cultural map. The PinchukArtCentre research platform plays an important role in this process, archiving and thoroughly researching contemporary Ukrainian art. Such publications as Parcommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon in English (2019) and Why there are great women artists in Ukrainian art in English (2019) and Polish (2020) are valuable assets in promoting Ukrainian art abroad. The next challenge for Ukraine is to boost and promote Ukrainian art to the world’s leading art institutions.
In the end, the main achievement of the Euromaidan was the emergence of new state cultural institutions, which have already begun to change the rules of the game in the art sector and, hopefully, will bring long-term systemic changes in the future.
For over three years, programs launched by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation (Innovative Cultural Product, N.O.R.D, Significant Events, etc.) and the Ukrainian Institute (Exter, Visualise, Ukraine Everywhere) have created international opportunities for dozens of Ukrainian artists, curators, art managers, and helped implement a number of Ukrainian art projects abroad.
Recent events give cause for optimism: Ukraine has begun to take its cultural heritage seriously and work on its image abroad. However, in order for optimism to turn into confidence, the processes that have been instigated must be reinforced and continued. Only long-term programmed work, which will allow Ukrainian cultural makers and doers to analyze the effectiveness of this strategy and provide sufficient resources to ensure cultural life and survival, can radically change the situation in Ukraine.
Hopefully, one day Ukrainians can stand up and say with confidence: the world knows Ukraine through its art.