The Venice Biennale announces a last-minute showcase of artworks created since the start of the war in Ukraine

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On Friday, the Venice Biennale announced that, when the 59th edition of the contemporary art showcase opens later this month, it will include an outdoor exhibition of works by Ukrainian artists – almost all of whom totality has been created since the start of the Russian invasion in February. . Titled “Piazza Ucraina,” the last-minute addition comes just a week before the April 23 start of the highly anticipated art event, which features national pavilions hosted by participating countries, as well as other works by art. events.

Organized by the curators of the Ukraine Pavilion in Venice — Borys Filonenko, Lizaveta German and Maria Lanko — the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and the Ukraine Emergency Art Fund (UAEF), the exhibition will highlight artists selected from the UAEF’s wartime art archive. The artworks, which were collected from social media, will be printed as posters and will be visible in a space designed by Ukrainian architect Dana Kosmina which will be regularly updated with new works. in the prestigious Giardini section of the Biennale. (The Giardini includes several national pavilions, including the American pavilion.)

According to curator and CEO of UAEF, Ilya Zabolotnyi, it is important to elevate Ukrainian artists, not only to draw attention to the war, but also to affirm Ukraine’s cultural independence. “We are not just fighting for democracy. We are fighting for identity,” Zabolotnyi said, in a joint Zoom interview from Kyiv with arts administrator and curator Olga Balashova. with whom Zabolotnyi shares oversight of the UAEF. “The Imperial Russian narrative clearly wants to erase that.” Zabolotnyi added that on February 22, when Putin tried to justify the upcoming invasion, “one of the key messages in his statement is that there is no Ukraine. There is no Ukrainian culture. It’s part of Russia. That’s why it’s one of the most important times for cultural workers and their vibrant and lively voices not to disappear.

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One of the defining events of the international art world, the Venice Biennale began in 1895 and has often found itself at the center of political conflicts, wars and other current events. In 1936, several nations, including the United States, boycotted the event in protest against Italy’s fascist government, and in 1940 the Biennale was held despite World War II – at an event that the curator and critic Lawrence Alloway called it “as impressive as it gets”. weird.” In a particularly extreme reaction to political events, the protests replaced an exhibition after Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s 1974 coup. Looking back to 2015, Biennale curator Okwuir Enzor called the 1974 protests of “one of the only instances where Venice faced contemporary catastrophe and launched a radical critique at that time”, asking: “Can you imagine doing this today? ”

“Piazza Ucraina” comes after the Biennale’s Ukrainian curators stepped up efforts to ensure their country’s pavilion would even take place, with Lanko personally carrying several pieces of a kinetic sculpture by participating artist Pavlo Makov from kyiv. It also comes after the withdrawal in February from the Biennial of Russian artists Alexandra Sukhareva and Kirill Savchenkov, and curator Raimundas Malasauska.

The showcase will feature works by nearly 40 artists who succeeded in producing art despite the war. The first work in the exhibition will be a work by Kateryna Lysovenko, made shortly after Putin’s speech on February 22. It features a mother and child, both of whom raise their middle fingers in reprimand.

Balashova has been collecting the artwork since early March and says she is very comfortable with the job. “When I put them together with my colleagues, it’s like a healing practice,” she says. “When you see these images, which symbolize this emotional state, you can understand what is happening to you.” Seeing the works online, she says, adds another layer of togetherness. “You see how many people comment on art and express that they could never imagine feeling what they see.”

Some of the guest artists adopt a quasi-documentary approach. Kinder Album, for example, will contribute watercolors depicting refugees crammed into trains and women being abused by Russian soldiers, as well as a painting of nude figures fending off a tank. Matviy Vaisberg’s proposals include calm, almost abstract images multimedia scenes from a series called ‘Travel Diary’, while Vlada Ralko’s visceral and graphic drawings, titled ‘Lviv Diary’, bring viewers shockingly close to the violence in the artist’s hometown.

Those who come to Venice for the lively art will also get a taste of less shiny reality.

Zabolotnyi says he wakes up every day in kyiv and marks not the day of the year, but the day of war. “Everything can change drastically in a minute,” he says. “So it’s a very visible one-day horizon.” Looking at this art, however, he finds these instant artifacts oddly appropriate. “When your life is reduced to just one day’s planning and you’re working with material that can last for ages, it’s a very tight bond,” he says. “It’s a step towards eternity.”

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