Wife and husband gallerists Julia and Max Voloshyn had planned to return to Kyiv last week to open a new exhibition in their space. But with commercial air traffic halted as Russian troops invaded Ukraine, their stay in Miami – and the duration of their fleeting exhibition there – was extended.
The show, titled “The Memory on Her Face”, showcases the socially charged work of five Ukrainian artists. After arriving in Miami in November to hold booths at two of the satellite art fairs running concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach – NADA and Untitled Art – the Voloshyns contracted Covid, postponing their return for a month. In mid-January, along with several prominent Ukrainian art collectors who came to Miami in February, they mounted this impromptu exhibition in a small warehouse in the Allapattah neighborhood, with Untitled’s Omar Lopez-Chahoud as curator.
“It’s a documentation of what’s been going on in Ukraine for a few years,” Julia Voloshyn said over the phone from the Miami rental, where she, her husband and their small child are staying.
One of Kadan’s coins features a screen-printed photo of a building in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, partially turned into rubble after Russian forces invaded the area in 2014 and continue to support separatists there. The screen print is loosely attached to a metal shield, so that “as the air moves it, it captures the fragility of our country and our lives,” Voloshyn continued. “Now we see the same in Kyiv.”
Khomenko’s portraits depict ordinary working-class people shaken by social forces, their bodies stretched against the borders of the canvases.
A large painting by Sai, from his “Bombed” series, may at first glance appear as a simple geographical abstraction. But it features a recent satellite image of the areas ravaged by the Battle of Donbass, superimposed over one of Sai’s earliest aluminum paintings, then etched with a metal grinder to simulate the craters left behind.
Yet Voloshyn’s mind remained focused on his gallery in Kyiv. Used as a bomb shelter during World War II when the German army besieged the city, it sits under a seven-story building. The Voloshyns had transformed it into a chic space, with wooden floors and tasteful lighting. It was again an air-raid shelter, and Voloshyn had urged the artists in his gallery to take refuge there.
On Saturday evening, Kadan was locked inside the Kiev gallery with a small group, preparing for a city-ordered weekend curfew. His initial response to Thursday’s Russian invasion had been stoicism. “I stayed in my apartment and watched old Ingmar Bergman movies,” he joked on Zoom. By Friday evening, nearby explosions had become too loud to ignore, and he had moved to the gallery.
“I have so many historical images in my head that I keep thinking about: Sarajevo in the 90s, Leningrad in World War II,” he said. “Of course, now it will be different. War is always contemporary, always different. But it’s also always bloody. Already there is a lot of blood. He focused on small children locked in adjacent underground bunkers. “Every time we go out for a cigarette we see this empty stroller,” he added grimly.
For Kadan, the role of an artist in this situation was clear: “To be witnesses”. But he also knew, as Russian troops poured into Kiev, that many artists were trading in their pens and brushes for flasks to make Molotov cocktails. “Emotionally, I am ready. But technically, to be honest, I’m not,” he explained. “I have dealt with the reality of war in my art, but I have never held a real weapon in my hands. Maybe I’ll throw an empty champagne bottle on the tanks. I do not know.”
Khomenko and his family had also initially taken refuge in the Voloshyn Gallery. An activist during Ukraine’s Maidan revolution in 2014, she was delighted to see military and civilians coming together to resist the current invasion. But Kadan had implored Khomenko to think of his 11-year-old daughter and move to safer ground in the west.
There was an hour of tense discussion – and a heated argument with Khomenko’s grandmother, who had lived through Germany’s 1941 assault on Kiev and absolutely refused to leave town now. Finally on Friday, before the Ukrainian army began to defensively blow up the city’s bridges, Khomenko, her daughter, husband, sister and mother, mother’s cat and Khomenko’s dog, all crammed into her Aging Czech built Skoda, rushed to a friend. in the small western town of Ivano-Frankivsk.
Understanding the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is behind this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine in its natural sphere of influence, and it has become unnerved by Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is not part of either, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
“I’ve been driving for over 24 hours,” a visibly exhausted Khomenko said via Zoom on Saturday night. To avoid any fighting, “we tried to stay away from the main roads between the villages, but these secondary roads are very bad, so it’s stressful. It’s completely black, very rough.
Left behind was the sprawling series of canvases she had been working on for five years – set to be unveiled in June at a Kiev history museum. She was originally inspired by her grandfather’s sketches of the German invasion of 1941: “I wanted to compare the real experience of the war with the socialist-realist propaganda of the time. Except the comparison had suddenly taken on an all-too-real update. Her mind was already racing as she pondered aloud Russia’s recent digital propaganda and scenes of war she had just seen — and felt — firsthand.
“Painting has its own language with a deep tradition. I want to work with this tradition, mix socialist realism with internet images, layer them and build a new image,” she continued before picking herself up. She stopped and shook her head, “That’s so crazy. We were living so normally, then we became meat just trying to escape.
The memory on her face
Until March 28 at 676 NW 23rd St. in Miami. To schedule a free tour, email: [email protected]