Why focus on art during a burning war?

A week ago, thanks to an additional grant from the Nordic Council of Ministers, we were able to open an exhibition with new works by seven Ukrainian contemporary artists. In the exhibition How did I get to the bomb shelter, we get to see artists Kinder Albums, Mykhaylo Barabash´s, Jaroslav Kostenkos, Sergiy Petlyuks, Elena Subachs, Art Group Sviters and Maxim Finogeev´s  perspective on Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.

And why would it be important to focus on art in the midst of a raging war? I’ll tell you why.

It has become clear that culture is a specific target for Russia in the war against Ukraine. As of 8.2.2023, UNESCO has confirmed the destruction of 238 objects since 24 February 2022: 105 religious sites, 18 museums, 85 buildings of historical/artistic value, 19 monuments and 11 libraries. Already on the fourth day of the war, a museum dedicated to the world-famous Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko was attacked.

Deliberate attacks on culture are nothing new. The bombing of Guernica by the German Air Force during the Spanish Civil War, the systematic destruction of Polish libraries and archives by the Nazis during World War II, and the attacks on cultural objects by ISIS are some of the more famous attempts to wipe out culture during war. To destroy art is to erase the history of a country, to deprive it of the quality of being a nation.

Fighting for culture is not only about preserving antiquity, but also about fighting for the present and the future. This is a time when culture must not be interrupted and the artists continue their work, continue to adress the terrible situation through their art. And the world is responding – never before has Ukrainian art and culture been so globally present. We are incredibly grateful for the artists’ participation in the exhibition and hope that as many people as possible will get to share their stories.

A warm thank you to the exhibition’s curator Yulia Sapiga, who came to The Nordic House last summer through the organization Artists at Risk. This would never have been possible without her.