The exhibition ‘Maidan.Ukraine.Road to Freedom’ opened in the Ukrainian club in London on 10 July.
The project aims to use visual and performative art to bring the atmosphere of Maidan to a wider audience and share the ideas and values of the Ukrainian revolution with diverse international communities. It was organised by Art Fund Dukat, initiative groups ‘Path to freedom’ and ‘London EuroMaidan’ with the support of British Council, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB).The programme for the next few days includes exhibition of paintings by Kyiv-based artist Matvey Vaisberg and photography by Maxim Dondyuk and Igor Gaidai, all based on the time spent in Maidan, art posters by the group of designers ‘I am a drop in the ocean’, screening of documentaries on Maidan by the art group Babylon’13, as well as music, poetry, and a play by London-based amateur Ukrainian theatre.
Art is approached, interpreted and presented as lived experience by the organisers of the exhibition which kicked off in Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie Museum in June and now has come to London. At the launch event on Thursday, visitors to the club could face the atmosphere of Maidan before entering the premises. London-based activists have recreated the already symbolic images of the protests on Kyiv’s main square: behind a makeshift barricade made of tyres, next to a tent surrounded by Molotov cocktails, firewood and smoking barrels, a couple of people were sitting wearing ski masks and helmets, banging on a barrel like a war drum. Inside, amongst photographs and paintings on the walls, there were also symbolic exhibits brought from the real Maidan in Kyiv, like pavement stones, improvised shields and helmets.
At the press-conference held before the launch reception, organisers, London Euromaidan activists and other members of the Ukrainian community discussed the possibilities and problems of using culture as a tool for popularisation of the Ukrainian experience in the West, developing a positive image of the country and its political aspirations, and debunking misinformation about Maidan and turmoil in the East of Ukraine produced by the Russian propaganda in Kremlin-backed media.
Serhii Fomenko, Ukrainian musician and one of the initiators of the project, stressed in his talk that art should be a means of transmission of the ideas of Maidan as a revolution of free people who fought for European future for a few months. Maxim Dondyuk, one of the photographers whose work was exhibited and who was present at the launch, spoke about his experience of life at Maidan as well as visiting Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and how this practical experience translated into his photographs. In particular, he told how he managed to work in the East as a photographer for the Russian journal ‘Russian reporter’: according to Mr Dondyuk, it was the only opportunity for a Ukrainian photographer to get to the other side of the barricades and try to understand ‘the other side’.
The international role of Russian factor in the last months was one of the key topics of discussion. One of the local activists, Igor Gavrylko, while describing the birth of the project in discussions with Mr Fomenko, underlined that one of the main reasons for this initiative was the overwhelming presence of Kremlin-backed Russian media narratives about the events in Ukraine that often tend to distort information. Mr Fomenko, while answering a question from the audience about potential plans to popularise the project explaining the concept of Maidan and its reasons amongst the population of the East of Ukraine, asserted that the people of Donetsk and Luhansk regions don’t identify themselves as Ukrainians due to their separation from Ukrainian culture and politics in favour of ‘watching TV’: ‘It’s the same nation, but some watch TV and others listen to music,’ he said. He stressed the importance of the role of cultural ambassadors to the Eastern regions who would not only present art but also talk to people. Mr Fomenko assured that the project would go to the Eastern regions ‘as soon as the war is over’. To the question about the possibility of the project going to Russia, though, Mr Fomenko grimly responded: ‘One-way ticket’. However, this did not exclude the option of digitalisation of the project and dissemination of information through (few) supporters in Russia, the speakers noted.
At the end of the press-conference, there was also a brief talk by local activist Oksana Motyka about the history of development of London-based Euromaidan. There were also contributions by the representatives of AUGB and the Orthodox priest. Members of the amateur theatre played a scene from the play ahead of the performance to be held on 13 July. The panel discussion was followed by drinks reception.
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