„The war changed my plans“ – A conversation with Ukrainian art critic Olesia Sobkovych
Lesezeit 6 Minuten
Ukrainian art critic Olesia Sobkovych left her homeland due to the Russian war of aggression. Now she is working at the Bode-Museum as part of the Ukraine Funding Line at the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for the Arts (ESVK) and the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, where she continues her work.
Did you come to Germany immediately after the war began on February 24th?
No, not immediately. It took me time to understand that in the 21st century such a phenomenon as a full-scale war is possible. A war that started contrary to common sense, international law, democratic ideals and European values.
How did the war affect your work and life in Ukraine? What were you working on in Ukraine at the time before the war?
My activity as an art critic in the last six years was connected with two main fields:
First, it was my scientific work. I investigate the peculiarities of the development and functioning of the Ukrainian modern art and Kyiv art criticism of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The second direction of my activity was related to curation, creation of artistic and historical-art exhibitions and projects. These projects were dedicated to the Russian-Ukrainian war, traditional folk art and its combination with modern artistic practices, and the development of public art in Ukraine.
Regarding the changes that the war brought to my life and creativity: This summer another stage of the international biennial „Sculpture in the open sky“ was supposed to take place, where I act as a co-curator. However, the full-scale invasion of Russia prevented the implementation of this project as was planned. The defense of my dissertation was also postponed. So the war adjusted my plans, or rather the timing of their implementation.
Undoubtedly, war is a test and brings changes. However, I try to see them as opportunities, as possibilities of positive changes in me and improvement of my professional level.
You are now working at an SPK institution as one of several scientists who had to flee Ukraine. What exactly are you doing at the Bode-Museum? Were you able to continue your research without any problems?
I am funded by the Ukraine Funding Line at the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for the Arts (ESVK) and the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung. Thanks to the pioneer work in curatorial academic outreach for what the Bode-Museum is well-known, I am able to put my background in contemporary art into a project that will show how much we can learn about 21st-century Ukraine from the sculpture and byzantine collections of the Bode-Museum.
What is the working environment like and how is working with the collection at the Bode–Museum?
The working atmosphere is very friendly and professional, dominated by prudence, consistency, gradualism, constancy and scientific knowledge. That is always present and felt at every stage of work. As a result, my work with the collection is fruitful. I am deepening my knowledge, adopting the experience of my colleagues in arranging projects, and this process continues. I’m very grateful to my colleagues from the Bode-Museum, the Ernst von Siemens foundation for the Arts and the Herman Reemtsma foundation for the opportunity to gain this experience and possibility of fruitful cooperation.
What is your perspective after the end of the fellowship? Do you think you can return to Ukraine and seamlessly continue your work?
There is a belief that a true artist creates works because he simply cannot do otherwise. Creativity is their essence, their life and hobby at the same time. In my opinion, the same thing happens with scientists. We investigate, strive to make the invisible and incomprehensible visible, understandable, relevant and interesting. So, after the end of the Ukraine Funding Line at the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for the Arts (ESVK) and the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, I will continue my scientific and curatorial work and I hope that it will be possible to do it calmly in Ukraine as well.
There is a lot of talk on the political stage about how the West can support Ukraine with weapons and money. How do you think Western museums and Western cultural institutions could help Ukraine preserve its heritage?
The answer to this question consists of three components: preservation, popularization, return of historical truth. Preservation of cultural heritage consists of presenting and actualizing its achievements for the present. Heritage must be „alive“, communicate with the current time, delving into socio-psychological, socio-cultural contexts. And we are talking not only about the Ukrainian local, but also the world artistic space.
In this context, it is important that our culture is associated with progress, success, and becomes attractive to the international community. It will significantly increase our chances of becoming a powerful player on the world stage, which is extremely important in the conditions of a full-scale invasion of Russian troops into the territory of Ukraine.
So, effective help of Western cultural institutions in the popularization of Ukrainian heritage is possible thanks to the disclosure of its connections with the international artistic process by organizing scientific forums, exhibition projects and other initiatives that aim to contribute to the realization of the above-mentioned goal. Among other things, such initiatives are supported by the Ukraine Funding Line at the Ernst von Siemens Foundation for the Arts (ESVK) and the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung.
Cultural heritage is the identification of the people, their awareness of their role and place on the world map. Already at the end of the 19th century, a significant number of cultural monuments of Ukraine were stolen to the territory of the modern Russian Federation and appropriated as achievements of “the great Russian culture”. The same thing happened and still happens with artistic culture. Ukrainian researchers write about it, organize exhibitions that convey these narratives. But now is the time for European scientists of museum and research institutions to pay attention to the definitions of “Russian” or “Ukrainian” art. For example, the National Gallery in London this year renamed the painting by Edgar Degas from the series „Russian Dancers“ to „Ukrainian Dancers“. We are sure that such a careful look into the “Russian” must be continued throughout the world and also in the future. There is an urgent need to understand the identity of Ukrainian culture by the European artistic community.
Do you believe that culture, science and art will be able to build bridges between people and overcome the difficulties of the future?
Interesting question. I believe that culture and art help each of us to find our own identity and to understand the relationship and contexts of the national and the global, which is extremely important in terms of the idea of globalization. It is important because it demonstrates the peculiarities of each culture, teaches to respect these cultures and encourages to consider the mutual influences of different cultures as a process of their mutual enrichment, but not destruction.
In addition, the presence of a developed culture and science is a guarantee of the existence and popularization of the human critical thinking. It is exactly the critical thinking that helps to correctly place the emphasis, to detect the substitution of concepts, to study issues from different perspectives before making a decision. So, no doubt, science, culture and art are the necessary inoculation that helps to level the threat of lack of tolerance and the presence of misunderstandings in the socio-cultural and political plane.
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