Solidarity from the Collection: Ukrainian Culture in the MEK
Lesezeit 5 Minuten
The russian attack on Ukraine prompted outrage and helplessness around the world. The Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK) reacts with a solidary presentation of highlights from Ukraine’s rich cultural history.
Since 24 February 2022, Ukraine is at war. Russian troops invaded the borders of this sovereign state in violation of international law. The population of Ukraine faces unimaginable suffering. Numerous civilians have already died, and millions are on the run. It is also Ukraine’s cultural heritage that is in danger: some museums were able to evacuate their collections, others have already been destroyed by the fighting.
With the destruction of Museums and cultural artefacts, cultural memory is also being lost”, says Elisabeth Tietmeyer, Director of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK). “The knowledge of the historical diversity of the region is critical to confront neo-imperial political manoeuvres. As a cultural anthropological and cultural historical museum, we preserve the objects and the knowledge associated with them – both of which we can make available to our colleagues in Ukraine after the war.”
Difficult data for today
Ukraine borders Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Hungary. Throughout history, the rule over today’s national territory has changed several times: parts of it belonged to the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania, others to the Russian Tsarist Empire, the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union. Over time, the country developed a unique aggregation of languages, religions and cultures. This diversity shaped the country, independent since 1991, and the Ukrainian society to this day.
Ethnologists have been interested in Ukraine for a long time. However, the collectors of the early twentieth century did not look at the states. They documented ‘ethnic groups’, places and ‘cultural landscapes’. Much of the resulting data is difficult for us today: place names have changed since then or were never official. ‘Cultural landscape’ being just as vague and difficult to define as the concept of ‘ethnicity’. Yet, the objects presented by the Museum Europäischer Kulturen in its current ‘Motion Detector’ give an impression of the great religious and cultural diversity of Ukraine.
Impressions from the war
The objects in the collection help to understand current events in their historical contexts. The museum’s primary focus, however, is on the present, as Director Tietmeyer points out: “That is why we are currently preparing an exhibition with the Berlin-based Ukrainian photographer Mila Teshaieva. Over the last weeks, she was in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. From mid-June, her photographic impressions of everyday life during the war along with her written recollections will be on display at the MEK.”
The MEK has been in contact with Ukraine for a long time. A cultural historian from Kiev studied the Crimean Tatar collection for which she received a scholarship from the Berlin State Museums. “Until a few years ago, we also had a regular exchange with colleagues and artists from Crimea who dealt with Crimean Tatar art and culture”, explains Tietmeyer, “however, this contact ended after the annexation of Crimea by Russia.“
When it was acquired by the Ethnological Museum, this jug from the Belarusian-Russian-Ukrainian border region was assigned to the „Ukrainians“. Who are the „Ukrainians“? On the one hand, there is an East Slavic, linguistically and religiously diverse group that considers itself as ethnically Ukrainian. On the other hand, this is the term used to describe the citizens of today’s Ukrainian state.
This wooden box is one of the oldest eastern European objects in the MEK. According to the records, it comes from „Podolia“. Today, this area belongs to south-western Ukraine and north-eastern Moldova. In the course of its history, it has already been part of Poland, the Ottoman Empire and the Soviet Union.
Ivan Senkiv, staff member of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, attributed the necklace to the „Boyks“ from western Ukraine. The Boyks originally lived in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and Poland. In the countryside, they partly manage to maintain their traditions. In today’s Ukrainian cities, though, the cultural peculiarities of Ukraine’s many heritage communities are increasingly blending.
For a long time, the Hutsul people lived as shepherds in the Carpathians. When the nutcracker came into the museum’s collection several decades ago, its origin was labelled „Hutsul land“. It refers to a region of settlement, not a state. Today, many parts of it are in Ukraine, and many Hutsuls consider themselves Ukrainians.
As Muslims, the Crimean Tatars are in a minority in Crimea. In 1944, many of them were deported to Uzbekistan for being a „non-Russian ethnic group“. In the 1960s, it was a Crimean Tatar woman who made this carpet there. Although the Crimean Tatars could finally return to the peninsula in 1988, Crimea remains contested: in 2014, Russian troops occupied and annexed it.
On the occasion of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Museum of European Cultures is currently displaying a „Motion Detector“ with selected objects from its collection. They illustrate the centuries-long coexistence of various cultures on the territory of today’s Ukraine. The „Motion Detector“ regularly addresses current topics and discusses their relevance for the museum and its collection. It takes the form of a glass display case and is located in the foyer right next to the entrance. Since last week, the MEK has been using this space to express its solidarity with all people who oppose the Russian attack against Ukraine. Their commitment helps to protect the rich cultural heritage of the region and supports the preservation of the pluralistic coexistence that defines Ukraine.
Die Forscherinnen Ursula Kästner und Karoline Lölhöffel arbeiteten mit russischen Kolleg*innen an einem Kooperationsprojekt zu antiken Vasen. Durch den Krieg… weiterlesen
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