Ukraine as a country appears to be caught between two opposing forces. On the one hand, the conflict in the Donbas region continues to increase Western disinterest, the corruption that regularly polls at the top of Ukrainian concerns has yet to be dealt with outside of nominal gestures, and the continuing economic stagnation has led to more and more people leaving the country. On the other hand, there is undoubtedly a new sense of purpose among Ukrainians in the post-Maidan era. Artistically and culturally, Ukraine has become one of the most dynamic countries in Europe, with Kyiv emerging as a cultural hub and a host of individuals in a mixture of mediums gaining interest outside of Ukraine. For all the trials and tribulations of the post-Maidan era, what is evident is that Ukraine has seen a cultural rejuvenation that is showing itself through the rich amount of talent the country is producing.
While Ukraine has only started to penetrate Western conversations with the likes of Yulia Yefimtchuk, DakhaBrakha, and Taras Polataiko receiving significant attention, the country is awash with talent that can only serve to make us fall in love with it. We fall in love with this country because it is an example of the old adage ‘what is today is not forever’. Ukraine is a proven example that humanity will always strive to assert itself in the face of dehumanizing conditions. Ukraine shows that we always have agency to demand more, even under such oppressive conditions. Although the promises of Ukraine have not been fully fulfilled, we love Ukraine because what has occurred so far is only the beginning of the transformation of Ukrainian society into the country its people desire it to be. As such, we wanted to showcase some of the personalities helping to transform Ukraine into the country that we all adore.
Originally from Kharkiv, Darya is now mostly based between Kyiv and Warsaw. Her work since the events in 2012 has reflected often but not exclusively on the ongoing consequences of the Maidan protests. She works within a diverse array of mediums, including installation and performance, but throughout her work is the recurring theme of focusing on the identity of her subjects. Her installation The Archive of the Contingent Listener, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Pinchuck Art Center Prize, was inspired by military psychologists’ methods for helping soldiers cope with Post Traumatic Disorder by having a phone that directly opened to an unknown listener. It is used for the caller to open up and speak about the trauma that they have endured. Koltsova’s work showcases that despite commentators constantly proclaiming that we are living in a post-truth society where events like those in Donbas hold an impossible weight of emotion and hurt. Her work looks to apply a human voice to a dehumanizing process.
Arthur Mine is just one of many Kyiv-based musicians that has yet to properly receive the attention he deserves. His beautiful Homespun Nocturnes embodies so much the romance of why we are enthralled with images of light seeping out tress and the feeling of gentle mist upon our face with his piano works that offer a glimpse of the impossible charm of life. His compositions were composed on a hard to find Ukrainian-made Cherny piano, giving his recording a far more fuller sound. Each of his tracks hint at the peculiar ambiance of Kyiv which seems to escape much of the English vocabulary. It is simultaneously urban and chaotic, while in equal measure composed and thoughtful. He plays into no clichés but prefers to provide us all with a glimpse of Kyiv’s beauty.
Splitting his time between Kharkiv and Berlin, Igor Chekachkov’s work is diverse and complex but appears to constantly have a consistent interest in the human body. Particularly after Romain Mader’s Ekaterina work that only received any measure of critique after winning the Foam Paul Huf prize, Igor’s work plays an essential role in relocating the conversation regarding Ukrainian sexuality from the Western gaze. Instead, he locates it in the inconspicuous moments where the body exists not to perform. He captures the moments where the body operates most autonomously and free of worldly expectations. His work operates in contrast to a Western gaze that looks to reduce the Ukraine body as a commodity by reclaiming it from such an oppressive gaze and providing a less restrictive context. Soon enough, he will be featured in the first compilation of Ukrainian erotic photography.
With the work of vogue fashion designers like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Yulia Yefimtchuk constantly being described vaguely as “post-Soviet”, Dastish Fantastish projects an image of not a nostalgia for the past but a nostalgia for what should have been the future. This cyber punk-inspired street brand originally started in Kyiv as an electronic music project which eventually transformed into a fashion brand after a mix of money and courage came together. According to their main designer Vladimir Demchinsky, Dastish Fantastish looks to merge together “aesthetics of the youth, futurism and dark romance.” With Kyiv increasingly becoming a central destination for those interested in fashion, Dastish Fantastish’s work offers one of its boldest and most exciting brands.
To speak about any aspect of life in Ukraine since Maidan without politics is an impossible task. The maxim that ‘everything is political’ is no longer theoretical in Ukraine. Whereas the majority of commentary on Ukraine’s current circumstances tends to reflect through a nationalistic lens, Sasha Kurmaz’s work offers a substantial critique of the effect of capitalism on Ukraine, particularly the affects of advertisement. Kurmaz made numerous interventions across Europe, from Vienna to Kyiv, of discrediting these advertisements and less so revealing their intention but subverting their purposes. His work operates in the same fashion of Maidan as to reclaim public space and affirm the general population’s control of it. Much like the others above, his work offers an insight to the dynamic culture in Ukraine that does not fit within any simple labels but rather looks to stimulate conversation and ask further questions.