With the war, a Ukrainian art show gains new meaning
In Miami, an exhibition of works by Ukrainian artists has gained new significance with the Russian invasion. It's a show mounted by the Voloshyn Gallery, which is based in Kyiv. The war has left the Ukrainian gallery owners, Max and Julia Voloshyn stranded in the U.S. and unsure when they'll be able to return home.
They're a young married couple, with a baby. They came to Miami from Kyiv five months ago to present work during Miami's international Art Basel week. After that, they mounted a pop-up show in a Miami warehouse district.
It's a far cry from the gallery the Voloshyns own in Kyiv. Julia Voloshyna says the gallery is in the basement of a historic building near the city center. They opened it in 2016. With the war, she says, "we cannot operate anymore. And our gallery now is a bunker."
The gallery staff and some of the Voloshyn's artist friends are staying there at night, using it as a bomb shelter. As of a few days ago, she said they told her the bombs and missile attacks hadn't targeted that area yet. "It's quiet in the city center," she says. "But they're scared as well."
As they watch for news from home, Julia and Max are exhibiting the work of five Ukrainian artists, featuring painting, sculpture and multimedia pieces, some of which now seem eerily connected to the fighting and missile strikes in the news. A work by Nikita Kadan depicts the remains of a crumbling high-rise building. Max Voloshyn says, "It was destroyed by artillery in 2015 in the Donbas region, in Ukraine."
It's a photograph printed on silk, draped over a black metal and resin frame. Voloshyn says Kadan is one of those who's currently staying in the gallery in Kyiv.
For the Voloshyns, it is understandably stressful now. After Art Basel, both Max and Julia contracted COVID. They decided to stay in Miami a little longer. Then came the invasion, leaving them uncertain when it would be safe or practical to return home. Max says they worry about their families and friends. "My friend Igor was at the opening of this show in Miami, three weeks ago." Max takes out his phone to show a photo of his friend, smiling, wearing a flak vest and carrying a Kalashnikov-style rifle. "It's crazy," he says. "Just three weeks ago, he was in Miami."
Julia and Max Voloshyn opened their first gallery 15 years ago when they were both students. For this show and others, they've worked with Miami-based curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud. Lopez-Chahoud says plans were underway for another show later this year in Kyiv. That no longer seems possible. He says, "At least we managed to showcase these artists. And their work is so much connected to the current situation."
Another piece in the show, by artist Oleksiy Sai has a special resonance now. Using Excel software, he created a satellite map of the embattled Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine that he then printed onto aluminum. Much of the map was then obscured by hundreds of craters that Sai ground into the aluminum.
Julia Voloshyna says, "He was looking at the Donbas region when there was a conflict, the war with Russia before. [He] tried to depict how it was, the landscape was [destroyed] by bombs. It's a beautiful work, but beautiful and scary at the same time."
With few other options, the Voloshyns have extended their exhibition in Miami. Even before the invasion put their country into the headlines, they say there was growing interest in Ukrainian artists. They're hoping that interest, and international support for Ukraine, will help artists find fellowships or other opportunities to allow them to continue to produce art in the midst of the conflict.
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