War and Revolution: Framing 100 years of Cultural Opposition in Ukraine

Posted on: 12 April 2018

One hundred years of cultural opposition in the Ukraine was the focus of a public discussion in Trinity College Dublin on Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 to mark the launch of a new exhibition entitled ‘War and Revolution: Framing 100 years of Cultural Opposition in Ukraine’ in Trinity Long Room Hub.

The last century of Ukrainian history has been shaped by war, revolution and the struggle for statehood. The Russian Revolution of 1917 swept away the Romanov dynasty, unleashing five years of social upheaval in the southwestern borderlands. The Euromaidan Revolution of 2014 precipitated Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in the Donbass. The decades in between saw civil war, famine, the Stalinist purges, mass repression and surveillance, as well as attempts by Soviet Ukrainians to reform and humanise socialism from within.

Through striking works produced by several generations of writers and artists, a new exhibition in Trinity Long Room Hub, entitled ‘War and Revolution: Framing 100 years of Cultural Opposition in Ukraine’ will focus on 100 years of cultural opposition in Ukraine and explore Ukraine’s complex historical legacies, as well as various modes of cultural resistance. Featured in the exhibition will be reproductions of paintings, graphics, photographs, and texts produced by individuals, who fought for greater cultural and political autonomy for Ukraine within the Soviet system.

The exhibition ties struggles of the Soviet era to current events by showing images of human rights activists and political prisoners, many of whom served lengthy sentences in strict regime hard labour camps in Siberia in the 1960s and 1970s, participating in the protests of 2014. To give visual representation to the human costs of war and revolution, the exhibition displays works by photographers Joseph Sywenkyj—a recent recipient of the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography —and Anatoliy Stepanov, who has spent the last four years photographing on the frontlines of the war in the Donbass.

To mark the launch of the exhibition Trinity Long Room Hub hosted a panel discussion featuring Dr Orysia Kulick, Research Fellow in Ukrainian Studies, School of Languages, Cultures and Literatures, Trinity, and curator of the exhibition; Professor Gillian Wylie, Assistant Professor of International Peace Studies in the School for Religions, Peace Studies and Theology, Trinity; and Photojournalist Joseph Sywenkyj.

In her contribution to the discussion Dr Orysia Kulick, situated the exhibition in a broader historical perspective, discussing the impact of war and revolution on Ukraine over the last century and the various forms of resistance that multi-generational struggle has engendered.

“My hope is that the exhibition and catalogue puts recent events in Ukraine – the EuroMaidan Revolution, the war in the Donbas, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine – into the proper context. ‘The lesson and argument implied in the exhibition is particularly relevant today… We are again in a militaristic, muscular moment in world history, when the post-WWII order is giving way to something new and as a historian I think it’s imperative to underscore that this moment is reminiscent of previous chapters in European history and global history, including the upheaval of WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution and the 1930s, when fascism was on the march.”

Professor Wylie discussed how gender analysis of these images enables us to bear witness to the bodily realities of war, ranging from pictures which capture the rigid gender binaries so crucial to mobilising war to disruptive images of women’s agency and wounded men.

The “profoundly moving exhibition”, according to Dr Wylie, helps us to understand the contemporary situation in Ukraine and reminds us of “the horrific toll that all wars, revolutions and political repressions take on human bodies”.

Photojournalist Joseph Sywenkyj drew on his twenty years of experience as a photojournalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Iraq and Ukraine, to discuss the human costs of war.

The exhibition will run until Friday, May 11th, 2018 and was organised as part of the Horizon2020 funded project COURAGE, which focuses on cultural opposition to communism in Eastern Europe, with generous support from the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Research Incentive Scheme.

Image: © Joseph Sywenkyj 2014

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