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Recap: Perspectives on Ukraine Through the Cultural Lens

On Saturday 11 June, STEAR organized an online event that highlighted Ukrainian art and culture in an effort to thwart the dehumanizing effects of the ongoing war on Ukrainian soil. STEAR believes that cultural understanding is an important part of fostering peace and connecting people, and we were happy to have hosted several distinguished Ukrainian speakers who hold vast knowledge on this important topic. The event was attended by an audience comprised of STEAR members and external guests, coming from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds.

The event was opened by STEAR’s very own Cultural Programme Manager Leonie Glaser, who started by providing some additional context regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She also introduced the guest speakers, each of whom possesses a highly relevant professional background – more information about each speaker can be found below.

The floor was then given to Alisa Lozhkina, curator and art critic, who used examples from the last chapters of her forthcoming book – detailing the development of Ukrainian art from the 1990s until now – to highlight changes in the Ukrainian contemporary art as a result of, as she phrased it, several important ruptures in both art history and Ukrainian history. Through a number of fascinating examples of photography, videography, and fine art by Ukrainian artists, Ms. Lozhkina traced the developments of art in the past decades in political and cultural terms, for instance by speaking about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the use of symbols in art in the following period.

Our second speaker, Olha Honchar was then introduced by Leonie. Ms. Honchar, a cultural expert and anti-crisis manager, spoke about changes and continuities in terms of the mindset before and during the war in Ukraine, mentioning the lacking plans for evacuation and crisis management in the context of the conflict. She also spoke about her own involvement in communication with partners in both political and cultural spheres from various regions, particularly museum workers, in Ukraine and the difficulties weighing down these partnerships in the current situation. It was in this context that the Museum Crisis Center and the Ambulance Museum project were established.

Finally, Lia Dostlieva, artist and cultural anthropologist, took the floor. Ms. Dostlieva spoke about the ways in which her own art projects and initiatives changed, especially with regards to their meaning, already since 2014 (with the invasion of Donetsk and the annexation of Crimea, in eastern Ukraine). She discussed the perceived loss of meaning of creating art since the February invasion, but also noted that real life intersects in many ways with one’s art. By way of example, she showed the audience her project entitled “Licking War Wounds,” but also “The cynocephali of Donbas” – works that touch on themes of change and disruption, conflict, myth, and particularly trauma, a theme on which Ms. Dostlieva has been working on extensively in a variety of formats.

The audience was invited to submit questions to the speakers, and the event was concluded with an interactive Q&A session. Topics in this insightful discussion included the issues in connecting politics with art and the ways in which the political sphere could engage with artistic production in a more meaningful way. Finally, the speakers and the audience discussed the inherently political nature of engaging with art in any form, as well as the ways in which one’s background – nationality, gender etc. - impacts the areas that one is presented with as “suitable” topics for art.

We would like to thank everyone for attending and for submitting your questions in the discussion! Additionally, our gratitude extends to our speakers, who came to share their expertise that is so sorely needed in these times of uncertainty and crisis. We recommend you look up their work online if you are interested in these themes. Finally, if this event sounds interesting to you, please stay up to date with our social media platforms and website, where we regularly advertise both opportunities for involvement and exciting events on a range of topics.

About the speakers

Alisa Lozhkina is an independent curator and art critic from Kyiv, Ukraine. She is one of the leading Ukrainian art historians, critics and curators. In 2013-2016 she served as a Deputy Director of Mystetskyi Arsenal, the largest museum and exhibition complex in Ukraine. In 2010-2016 she was the editor in chief of the major Ukrainian art magazine ART UKRAINE. In 2018 she was a chief curator of the first large-scale European museum presentation of three generations of Ukrainian contemporary artists at Ludwig Museum, which was nominated for Global Fine Art Awards as one of the best museum exhibitions of post-war and contemporary art in the world. In 2018 she also edited a book based on her curatorial project ART WORK. Currently she is finishing a book about the development of contemporary Ukrainian art in XX-early XXI century.

Olha Honchar is a cultural expert, anti-crisis manager and the director of the Territory of Terror Museum in Lviv, a post she gained at age 24. Prior to that, she has been engaged in several art projects in Donetsk and Luhansk, such as “Under construction: Museum open”. Olha has also been researching the features of PR, cultural and museum management in Ukraine. She has also been communicator of the projects of the “Cultural Diplomacy between Regions of Ukraine” program and initiator of the Museum Crisis Center and the Ambulance Museum project, which emerged in the first days of the Russian war against Ukraine.

Lia Dostlieva is an artist, cultural anthropologist, and essayist. Her primary areas of interest are memory and identity. In her practice, she combines anthropological research with artistic methods to produce both artworks and critical essays. As an artist, she employs a wide range of media — from installations to textile sculptures with a particular emphasis on post-photographic practices. She works a lot with collective memory, traces of mass traumas in visual culture, and conflicting identities — with a particular focus on the 20th and 21st centuries.

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