Oleksandr Babak and Anatol Stepaneko, Wasteland – Abandon Home (series) 2012, C-Type print 76 x 102cms © Oleksandr Babak and Anatol Stepaneko. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
LONDON, UK – Of late, Ukraine has been at the center of global news. In addition to the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the election of a new president, and the civil unrest, the struggle to remain autonomous from Russia’s unfathomable influence has put Ukraine under global lens. In Our Paradise, an exhibition of photographs that opened last week at the Saatchi Gallery, London illuminates the struggle of the Ukrainians through the years.
Originally curated by Galina Skliarenko, for the National Academy of Arts in Kiev, In Our Paradise… features photographs by Oleksandr Babak and Anatol Stepanenko, Victor Marushchenko, Tiberiy Silvashi and Anna Voitenko, whose images highlight some of the challenges encountered by Ukraine over the last few decades, including the most recent unrest faced by its people.
The exhibition is the first in the series of exhibitions facilitated by The Firtash Foundation’s three year patronage of the Saatchi Gallery, one of the world’s most renowned contemporary art galleries. The partnership, agreed in 2014, provides a rare opportunity for talented and emerging Ukrainian artists to exhibit their work in one of the foremost contemporary galleries in the world. But more importantly, it provides opportunity for the presentation of Ukraine’s unique culture and heritage to an international audience in London.
In Our Paradise… celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the renowned Ukrainian Poet, Taras Shevchenko, whose literary heritage laid the foundation for modern Ukrainian literature and language. But Shevchenko was not just a poet. He was also a writer, folklorist ethnographer, and an artist whose masterpiece – paintings and illustrations – have been celebrated across the globe.
A second collaboration between the Saatchi Gallery and Firtash Foundation, In our paradise… follows the success of Contemporary Ukrainian Artists, the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to Ukrainian contemporary art in the UK, which was held at Saatchi Gallery in October 2013 as part of the Days of Ukraine in the UK festival.
The renewed focus on art and culture of Ukraine engendered by the partnership between the Saatchi Gallery and Firtash Foundation rekindles interests in Ukraine’s most vibrant art scenes. Additionally, the partnership brings attention to the contributions of the artists featured in this exhibition, and those to be profiled in future exhibitions over the next three years, to the development of Ukrainian art and culture over the last twenty or so years.
Lada Firtash, Director of the Firtash Foundation, is excited about the partnership and prospect of introducing Ukrainian culture to a global audience. “We are honoured to announce our patronage of the Saatchi Gallery, which has shown great enthusiasm and support for our project to help educate the international community about the unique cultural and artistic history of Ukraine. The exhibition showcases various themes and techniques developed by artists from Kiev and beyond. The works address real life issues which I think the British public will relate to. The Saatchi Gallery is world renowned for its support of contemporary artists and it is a privilege to be working with them on this, and many other, exciting projects in the future,” she said.
Since it opened, the exhibition has presented new ways of looking at Ukraine in London beyond the unrest and war. While many people in the UK are aware of the immense social and political change occurring in Ukraine at the moment, it is clear that very few is aware of the truly vibrant contemporary art scene and unique cultural history of the country. Those cultural histories are revealed in many of the photographs, exposing some of the hidden facts of life in Ukraine.
Some of the works in the In Our Paradise shows people engrossed in ways of live hidden from outsiders. In one photo by Anna Voitenko Grushevskoho (series) 2004, two shirtless men entertain themselves and onlookers by drumming on a discarded oil gallon. Although this a cold season based on what the audience is wearing, the men brace the cold, perhaps, to show off their machismo. In Victor Marushchenko’s Donbass – Dream Land (series) 2003, a coal miner, knee deep in coal, digs through a mount of coal. Covered in coal, the man remained focused as he shovels the coal. Clearly, this is not the job for the faint heated. Above all it shows one of the ways, people make a living in Ukraine.
While some of the works show events of everyday life, others borrow from past and present history to remind people of the struggle and wars that have happened in Ukraine through the decades. Some of them are very touching as they capture human emotions in a way that boggles the mind. Oleksandr Babak and Anatol Stepaneko’s Wasteland – Abandon Home (series)2012, belongs in this category. In this picture are different sizes of over worn shoes on an age-beaten bench. The bench, which rests against a dilapidated wall, tells a lot of stories. It tells the story of abject poverty, of war and displacement in Ukraine cities. One cannot help but contemplate what happened to the people, especial the children. Perhaps, the answer is another of the series which shows a house that has been bombed. The roof has caved in and the walls are falling apart. Victor Marushchenko’s Chernobyl Zone – Machines Cemetery 2006 accentuates this feeling of dreadfulness that permeates this exhibition.
That the Saatchi Gallery has provided the platform for understanding the history of Ukraine culture is not surprising. The gallery prides itself on providing a platform for international, contemporary. By partnering with Firtash Foundation, Saatchi Gallery has not only brought exposure to the artists presented in the show, but also exposed some aspect of Ukrainian history that many were unaware of until now. Although these are famous photographers yet, their images are outstanding by all standard. There inclusion in this show will no doubt bring them the recognition they deserve , and further their photography career.