“‘I have a crisis for you’: Women Artists of Ukraine Respond to War” is an ungentle reminder that there is a war going on in Ukraine right now and it is not only being fought by men. The exhibit, which is presented by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, features the work of nine artists: Kinder Album, J.T. Blatty, Oksana Briukhovetska, Sonya Hukaylo, Oksana Kazmina, Lesia Kulchynska, Svetlana Lavochkina, Kateryna Lisovenko and Lyuba Yakimchuk, all chosen by curators Grace Mahoney and Jessica Zychowicz for “their prominent interest and exploration of issues relating to gender.”
Medium-wise, their work varies immensely, but together they tell a deeply personal story that reflects a shared sense of urgency to document and confront the war waged by the Russian Federation on Ukraine.
In order to address the largest possible audience, a companion exhibition website was created for the exhibit. Lviv-based multimedia artist Kinder Album’s watercolor of clothing-less, faceless women pushing a tank through the composition stretches across the site’s home page. It is the same work featured in the outdoor “Piazza Ucraina” exhibition of Ukrainian Work at the 59th Venice Biennale, although the title, “Ukraine Will Resist, 2022,” makes it clear that the work is about the current war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Without this title, the almost landscape-less image could be about anywhere.
The Performance Art and “Diary Poster” of visual and digital artist Oksana Kazmina also present jarring and darkly absurd juxtapositions of war and gender. In the performance piece “Digging, 2022,” Kazmina is recorded digging holes in a playground because, as Kasmina states on the exhibition site, “In the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a lot of graves are on playgrounds. It is happening in 2022.” In “Diary Poster, 2022,” a pictorial scribble that somehow resembles both a cross and a vagina is accompanied by a textual “diary entry,” which, when translated into English, reads: “Tonight I woke to air raid sirens. I decided to masturbate.” The absurdity of this juxtaposition, which is normally unseen or even unimaginable, ironically summarizes the absurdity of daily life in times of war.
Another absurdity of daily life at war is preparing for it as a civilian, which photojournalist J.T. Blatty artfully captures in the powerful photo series “Kyiv Civilians in Training, 2022.” In the photographs, women are shown loading rifles and practicing making tourniquets on themselves, bringing awareness to the traditionally overlooked role of women during warfare at a time when “women now account for about 22 percent of Ukraine’s military, a climb that began with the Russian-backed war in the east starting in 2014.”
The “War Rugs” of artist and curator Oksana Briukhovetsk, which are reminiscent of the story quilts of Faith Ringgold, use the traditional “female” craft of quilting to express her pain for her loved ones in Ukraine while she was in Ann Arbor. A statement from Briukhovetska on the website reads “It is hard to depict war visually, because even creating the most horrible images, you’ll never reach the real level of horror that people are experiencing during the war. War kills beauty, and therefore, beauty can be used as a tool of resistance.” Another work titled “War Diary, 2022,” by Lesia Kulchynska, a former NYU Fulbright scholar currently living as a refugee in Europe, is also about the pain she feels for her loved ones in Ukraine. She notes, “this series of watercolor drawings are an attempt to find some relief while externalizing this terrifying pain.”
The works of Kateryna Lisovenko and Sonya Hukaylo tactfully combine words and images to directly confront viewers with intimate portraits of wartime suffering. For example, the title of one of Lisovenko’s works lists the phrase “Evenings in Ukraine” six times, each time with a different date between 1920 and 2022, productively reminding us of the history of suffering and crimes of humanity against the Ukrainian people. Hukaylo, who is formally trained as a “graphic book artist” includes poems in the descriptions of her paintings depicting abstract representations of life in Ukraine.
The work of renowned documentarian and poet Lyuba Yakimchuk contains no images, only words. Her award-winning poetry book, “Apricots of Donbas” (Abricosy Donbasu), recently translated into English by another featured artist Svetlana Lavochkina, impels readers to pay attention to the historical narrative around war, gender and daily life for the people of Ukraine.
“‘I have a crisis for you’: Women Artists of Ukraine Respond to War” is located at 204 South State Street in the Lane Hall Gallery. The exhibit will be open until Dec. 16.
Daily Arts Writer Jaden Katz can be reached at email@example.com.