Russian War Crimes exhibition bringing the horrific reality of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine to the attention of the world opens at the same day
Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin, Tremor, Rumour, Hoover, 2001. Sequins on plastic plates. Courtesy Collection M HKA, Antwerp / Collection Flemish Community. Photographs provided by the PinchukArtCentre © 2022. Photographer: Sergey Illin.
143 days after the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, the PinchukArtCentre (Kyiv, Ukraine) opens again on July 17th with ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’. The major group exhibition with over 45 artists, presented in partnership with, and thanks to M HKA and the Flemish Government will put the focus on Ukraine as a country open to the world and will celebrate its deep roots and relation to Europe. ‘Russian War Crimes’ exhibition is integrated into the context of “When Faith Moves Mountains”.
The exhibition ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ brings together works chosen from M HKA/the collection of the Flemish Community, because of their emancipatory and empowering nature. More than 40 works from international artists are being lent. Even though the collection cannot be insured to any damages of war, M HKA and the Flemish Government chose to share resources and invest a significant part of their heritage into Ukraine. They are shown in dialogue with works by Ukrainian artists, many made during the war. The outcome is a space that invites us to feel, think and reflect beyond the immediate urgencies of war.
Jan Jambon, Flemish minister-president comments: “This is a risk we willingly take, in this way we can express our solidarity with Ukraine and our ambition to deepen our relation with the country.”
The scars of the First and Second World War are engraved in the Flemish landscape. A symbolic inclusion to the exhibition is therefore the work Flanders Fields (2000), by Berlinde De Bruyckere that references the First World War where Flanders was an essential battlefield. Then too, artists were sketching, writing poems, playing music while stationed in the trenches. It was a way not to lose touch of their humanity, a way to move beyond being an instrument of war.
With this exhibition, PinchukArtCentre, M HKA and the Flemish Government, share a belief that we must allow art to empower, that we must allow art to exist and engage with people and places where this is needed the most. Art allows one to stay in touch with one’s humanity, it provides a space for vulnerability, imagination and dreams.
From the M HKA collection, part of the Collection of the Flemish Community, there are amongst others works from Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin (Türkiye, 1957-2007), Francis Alÿs (Belgium, 1959), Babi Badalov (Azerbaijan, 1959), James Lee Byars (United States, 1932-1997), Jan Cox (Netherlands/Belgium, 1919-1980), Berlinde De Bruyckere (Belgium, 1964), Marlene Dumas (South Africa, 1953), Jan Fabre (Belgium, 1958), Sheela Gowda (India, 1957), Barbara Kruger (United States, 1945), Kerry James Marshall (United States, 1955), Almagul Menlibayeva (Kazakhstan, 1969), Otobong Nkanga (Nigeria, 1974), ORLAN (France, 1947), Wilhelm Sasnal (Poland, 1972), Allan Sekula (United States, 1951-2013), Adrien Tirtiaux (Belgium, 1980) and Luc Tuymans (Belgium, 1958).
From Ukraine there are works from among others Oleksandr Burlaka (1982), Oksana Chepelyk (1961), Danylo Galkin (1985), Nikita Kadan (1982), Alevtina Kakhidze (1973), Lesia Khomenko (1980), Kinder Album, Vlada Ralko (1969), Oleksii Sai (1975), Andriy Sagaidakovsky (1957), Yevhen Samborsky (1984), Anna Zvyagintseva (1986) and the group of Yarema Malashchuk (1993) and Roman Khimei (1992). Their works are in some cases early pieces, including a 1990s painting by Andriy Sagaidakovsky, depicting in exclusively blacks and greys a Ukrainian landscape with the text “Sometimes man is tired very much and wants to sleep a lot” – a poignant comment on the exhaustion of war. Others have been created during this war, displaying works that directly respond and reflect on current contexts. A symbolic example is that of Lesia Khomenko, who has engaged in painting soldiers and volunteers throughout the war. For the exhibition, she showcases a first group composition of soldiers supported by volunteers who formed a community around the army. It exemplifies Ukraine’s unshakable unity, a common rally around the purpose of survival.
Björn Geldhof, co-curator of ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ and Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre, comments: “To open an exhibition in Kyiv is essential for us. We always worked for Ukrainians and to be back today is very important. Our work continues and is even more relevant now the war is ongoing. It is a symbolic moment. Ukraine was recently welcomed to the European family, now one of the leading European institutions shows powerful support in sharing its works, at its own risk, with Ukraine. This is a gesture that Ukraine is Europe.”
Bart De Baere, co-curator of ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ and Director of M KHA: “It is not by chance that Ukraine and its president attach importance to art, in these dire circumstances, and precisely because of those. Indeed, at such a point art may engage both with the traumas of the moment and with horizons for the future and this is certainly so in Ukraine, where artists developed a unique capacity of constructive criticality.”
Initially the idea was to present ‘Russian War Crimes’ in parallel to the exhibition ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ but the organisers decided to integrate both. Any question relating to art in Kyiv at this point starts from its relation to this surpassing disaster. The Russian War Crimes is therefore the end of the trajectory but its content is already present from the very first moment one enters the PinchukArtCentre. The photos become a collective image, created by photographers who have been part of a public intelligence geared towards an evidence gathering effort to document and register Russian war crimes against Ukrainians. Its imagery is a key reference for thoughts and minds through ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’. This deliberate inclusion keeps in focus reality, addressing its urgency and its inescapability.
The photographs are taken from all over Ukraine since the start of the war till the beginning of July. Even so, they only address a fraction of the known crimes. The Russian War Crimes culminates in a film work by Oleksii Say, who collected 4863 different verified images of war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. The massive scale of this project combined with the aggressive editing and sound forces a state of permanent shock.
Björn Geldhof, co-curator of ‘Russian War Crimes’ and Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre, comments: “The Russian War Crimes exhibition shows the most horrific moments of the war, shows the victims, and gives back a name and a face to those who suffered from those Russian war crimes. The war is not just about Ukraine’s survival, it is about values. Ukraine has chosen European values of freedom time and time again. In 2004, in 2014 and now. That’s what they’re dying for, and fighting for. We, like all other Ukrainians, have an obligation to defend Ukraine in the best way that is available to us. And the best way that my team and I can do this is with exhibitions, art projects, round tables, publications and the like.”
Supporting the cultural and informational front the PinchukArtCentre has over the past months been organising a series of international presentations of Ukrainian art, from Art Basel to Davos. Among them the celebrated exhibitions, ‘This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom’ in the Scuola Grande della Misericordia at Venice Biennale and the Russian War Crimes House in Davos during the World Economic Forum and at NATO, both made in collaboration with the Office of the President of Ukraine.
Beyond this it has developed a deep cooperation with M HKA, the Contemporary Art Museum of the Flemish Community of Belgium. M HKA has a major international collection with a particular focus towards Eurasia and the different countries from the former soviet sphere of influence. Part of that is an important collection of Ukrainian contemporary art. At the start of the war both institutions launched a common project Imagine Ukraine starting from that collection. The project was developed in cooperation with Bozar, the European Parliament and the Office of the President of Ukraine and financed through the Flemish Government. It acknowledges the present humanitarian and military urgencies yet aims to create a space to enhance reflection about the future after the war. It became visible through three exhibitions, based upon the works of Ukrainian artists in the collection of the Flemish Community, at the European Parliament, Bozar in Brussels and M HKA itself, and through a website in four languages www.imagineukraine.eu
Now this cooperation finds a second moment through the reopening project of PinchukArtCenter in Kyiv now. The present exhibition is curated by Bart De Baere, Björn Geldhof, Ksenia Malykh, Yarema Malashukh and Roman Himey, with curatorial advice by Jan De Vree and the collection staff for the M HKA side.
The exhibition will be on view from the 17th of July until the 9th of October 2022. For more information, please visit PinchukArtCenter.