‘Falling Lenins, Crumbling Mosaics: Documenting Ukraine’s Soviet Monumental Heritage.’ Book launch and talk with Myroslava Hartmond and Dana Pavlychko, followed by discussion
Date: 13 September 2017
Registration: This event is free but prior registration is required.
The event will be in English.
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, the subsequent annexation of Crimea and the war in the east of the country, have engendered an intense debate about whether the country’s public spaces should be purged of all remnants of Soviet monumental propaganda. In 2015 the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation banning these monuments as symbols of the obsolete Soviet regime. From an original population of 5500 in 1991, today not a single Lenin statue remains standing in Ukraine. The government-supported policies of “decommunization” have come under criticism from historians and cultural activists for failing to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage, who argued for an approached informed by considerations of conservation. Though the content of Soviet art was meticulously controlled by state propaganda, Ukrainian artists managed to develop a visual language that transcends the Socialist Realist canon. Today these works serve as historical testimony, and show a new important page in the 20th-century art history. The event will analyse Ukraine’s parting with the Soviet aesthetics and symbols from the point of view of cultural history.
The event aims to bring together researchers and academics, journalists and cultural critics, artists and publishers, to initiate a discussion on Ukraine’s current relationship with the visual artefacts of the totalitarian past, and the new meanings they generate in the cultural context of today’s Ukraine.
Myroslava Hartmond (Halushka) is a Research Associate of the Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford (https://www.politics.ox.ac.uk/centre/centre-for-international-studies.html), and the owner and Managing Director of Triptych: Global Arts Workshop (http://www.t-gaw.com/). She explores the role of visual culture in the emergence of a new Ukrainian national identity through practice-based research in Ukraine’s cultural sector. In September 2014, Myroslava rebranded her family’s historic Triptych Gallery – one of the first private galleries in the former USSR – founded in 1988 in Kyiv’s picturesque St Andrew’s Descent. Triptych: Global Arts Workshop engages with the both the local and international community through exhibitions, events, and publications. In February 2016, Myroslava was nominated among the Cultural Leaders of the EU-Eastern Partnership Culture & Creativity Programme.
Myroslava will give a presentation about Ukraine’s phenomenon of Leninfall, the mass toppling of Lenin statues across Ukraine following the destruction of Sergei Merkurov’s rose quartzite statue of Lenin in Kyiv’s Shevchenko Boulevard during the Euromaidan protests. The talk is based on her foreword to ‘Looking for Lenin’, a recent photojournalistic investigation of Leninfall published by FUEL Publishing. The authors, photographer Niels Ackermann and journalist Sébastien Gobert, both based in Kyiv, have hunted down and photographed these banned Soviet statues, revealing their inglorious fate. They found them in the most unlikely of places: Lenin inhabits gardens, scrap yards and store rooms. He has fallen on hard times—cut into pieces; daubed with paint in the colors of the Ukrainian flag; transformed into a Cossack or Darth Vader—but despite these attempts to reduce their status, the statues retain a sinister quality, resisting all efforts to separate them from their history.These compelling images are combined with witness testimonies to form a unique insight, revealing how Ukrainians perceive their country, and how they are grappling with the legacy of their Soviet past to conceive a new vision of the future.
Dana Pavlychko is the Director of Kyiv-based Osnovy Publishing (http://osnovypublishing.com/eng/). Osnovy has been Ukraine’s most important academic publishing house since 1992. Today Osnovy’s catalogue contains over three hundred titles. The publishing house is actively developing a new direction – books with unique content and design, conceived and created by Ukrainian authors, designers and illustrators. One of the first projects was an English language guide Awesome Ukraine featuring interesting facts about Ukraine, equally fun for foreign visitors and Ukrainians themselves.
Dana will unveil “Decommunized: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics,” a freshly-published book of Soviet mosaics photographed around Ukraine, which provide a snapshot of the passing era. The book presents the first comprehensive study of Soviet monumental mosaics, outstanding artefacts of the cultural heritage of the era. Photographer Yevgen Nikiforov spent three years traveling all around Ukraine (including the presently occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts) in search of the most interesting art pieces of the 1950s–1980s within the context of Soviet Modernism. He covered 35,000 km of Ukrainian roads and visited 109 cities and villages to discover more than 1,000 surviving mosaics. The book includes around 200 unique photographs of monumental panels: officially sanctioned gigantic images of workers, farmers, astronauts and athletes of coloured smalto or ceramics illustrate Soviet life as it was meant to be represented. Some of the pieces featured here were demolished shortly after the photographs were taken: they fell afoul of the so-called decommunization laws that ban communist symbols and slogans.
All events of the series