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Abstract: Kunst Und Krieg Conference

Abstract: Kunst Und Krieg Conference


Kunst Und Krieg

Schlesisches Museum Zi Görlitz and Muzeum Karkonskie in Jelenia Góra

15 - 18 November 2023

Abstract: Art and War: How can Ukrainian Artists Today Resist Putin’s Aggression?

It is 630 days since the Russian Federation began their invasion of Ukraine and still, the devastated population of Mariupol are again hearing explosions, as armoured vehicles move slowly along its streets emblazoned with the Z insignia and the smell of burnt tires permeates the air. Local children are experienced in distinguishing the sound of a spring thunderstorm from the noise of rockets exploding but are suffering a new wave of panic attacks, begging their parents to hide again in the bomb shelters. How can one explain to a small 5-year-old child, in the centre of ravaged Mariupol, that these explosions, the armoured vehicles and the soldiers are in fact part of the Russian entertainment industry, descended on the city to film a TV drama for Putin’s propagandists.

This surreal and obscene use of film culture during time of war is not new. Hitler’s propagandists were shooting patriotic films right up to 1945; even as Nazi forces were suffering major losses on all fronts, the Wehrmacht was still expected to contribute thousands of extras to appear in a full colour, Napoleonic War epic, Kolberg. The staged scenes of Hitler arriving by aeroplane to lead mass rallies, immortalised by the darling of Nazi cinema, Leni Rifenstahl, are another example of art harnessed for war. Cinema directors commissioned by Stalin’s regime churned out patriotic films, portraying prosperous Soviet peasants living happy and harmonious lives in the ‘kolkhoz’ (collective farms), even as the Holodomor, the tragic man-made starvation that killed millions of innocent Ukrainians, was being perpetrated as a systematic genocide.

In this paper I analyse what motivates the artists that are living and working in Ukraine today - Nikita Kadan, Mykola Rydniy, Vlada Ralko, Evgenia Belorusets, to name just a few, - to continue to make work, to create their many testimonies, to bear witness as well as to provide hope. Self-determination through self-expression is the key idea leading us to understand how artists today can resist Putin’s aggression. Art cannot flourish in confinement, under censorship, subjugation, or oppression. Artists set themselves to break such boundaries to realise truthful self-expression. This self-determined approach to keep making art was established from the outset of the war, amidst the chaos and devastation; Ukrainians have managed to continue to make their voices heard, even with the minimal means available to them in times of war.

Today Ukrainian art is about re-evaluation; it examines how the ‘Big Brother’ Soviet era ideology that for so long belittled Ukrainian culture and mocked its language, was a systematic attempt to deny its independent and well established cultural existence. Making art in Ukraine today is an act of resistance against the violence of war. It is an act that connects each artist to a rich legacy of Ukrainian arts and crafts, reaching out towards a world community that is interested in the art of making rather than destroying. This resistance is currently focused on the documentation of war crimes, through the process of witnessing and chronicling the war within the artistic domain - in visual arts, music, literature, film, and theatre. This war will be over, and its perpetrators long forgotten, yet Ukrainian art of this period will be left for humanity to experience, appreciate and enjoy - for years to come.

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