The art of war

Ukrainian exhibit tells story of war through eyes of artists on the ground


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‘Will I be fast enough to reach the bomb shelter?”

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‘Will I be fast enough to reach the bomb shelter?”

That’s the question asked by a woman cooking her breakfast in an illustration by Kyiv-based illustrator Anna Sarvira. Behind the woman, warheads fall. She may not have enough time.

It’s a startling depiction of the trauma of conflict: even the most mundane, quotidian activities — making eggs, going to the grocery store, cracking a window to let in a cool breeze — become fraught with risk, doubt and paranoia. It’s a reality those in Ukraine have been reliving day after day for seven months since the Russian invasion. In a war zone, life moves at a scattered, unpredictable pace.

Ukranian artists Mari Kinovych (right) and Anton Abo (left) have works featured in the Picoric exhibit at the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

This lived experience is at the core of an impressive exhibition of Ukrainian digital art at Winnipeg’s Oseredok, where 50 pieces grace displays in one of the cultural centre’s open gallery spaces. The collection is being shown during a two-day pop-up event coinciding with Nuit Blanche, with proceeds going toward English classes at Oseredok for Ukrainian refugees. Each piece in the collection was created during the still-occurring occupation of Ukraine by members of the Pictoric art collective, showing the experience of war through the individual prisms of each member.

There are caricatures of Russian president and demagogue Vladimir Putin, depicted as a toilet, a snake and as the outer layer of a Russian nesting doll with Adolf Hitler hidden inside. There are scenes of families sitting at home, images of looters stealing the appliances from abandoned homes in war-torn cities. There are Molotov cocktails and women crying and sunflowers riddled with bullet holes.

“As artists, we have to do what we can to speak out against Russian propaganda and about what is truly happening in this war,” says Veronika Kotyk, a Kyiv-based children’s illustrator and Pictoric member in town for the show at Oseredok. Kotyk says that even Russian colleagues in the art industry whom she considered friends have refused to be honest about what’s happening, claiming — as depicted in her own illustration — that what’s black is white.

Photographer Chrystia Chudczak (left) and artist Veronica Kotyk will have their works featured as park of the Picoric exhibit on Saturday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Pictoric work was brought to Canada by Sofiya Kominko, an Ottawa-based Ukrainian who felt inspired to share such vivid and at times horrific images of a war that for many felt far away. “These artists went through, and are going through, these experiences themselves,” she says. From far away, many images have bright tones, but when viewers get closer, they can see there’s more than meets the eye. So far, the images have been shown in the Canadian capital and in Vancouver, with the latest stop in Winnipeg hopefully not the last, Kominko says.

Chrystia Chudczak, also an Ottawan of Ukrainian descent, has an ongoing exhibit of her own photographic work to go alongside the Pictoric illustrations. Chudczak’s tool of choice is her camera, and throughout the period of war, she shot about 25,000 images showing how the war impacted Ottawa, and the Ukrainian diaspora in general. Chudczak’s photos show protests, unrest and general instability — illustrating through her lens how far-off conflicts are really never so distant.

So far on the Pictoric tour, about $18,000 has been raised toward medical equipment and children’s rehabilitation for those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

A piece by Anna Sarvira. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Asked what she hopes audiences take away from the exhibit, Kominko ponders for a moment before summing up the art’s message in one short sentence.

“The war is not over,” she says.

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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.


Updated on Saturday, September 24, 2022 9:36 AM CDT: Fixes spelling of Kyiv

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