The War in Ukraine and the Visual Arts

Reflections on the consequences of the conflict, reactions of Ukrainian and Russian artists and threatened cultural goods

The war in Ukraine, in its 13th day and already with a trail of more than 1 million refugees according to the UN, has generated sanctions not only economic against Russia. 


O Cannes Film Festival, one of the most prestigious in the world, has announced that it will not accept the presence of official Russian delegations or people linked to the Putin government, without specifying whether the decision affects any Russian film. THE eurovision, Europe's biggest music festival, banned participation from Russia this year. FIFA has suspended the Russian national team from the world Cup. The Royal Opera House in London has canceled performances by Bolshoi Ballet. Even the writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), titan of world literature, became a target. In Italy, a festival of Russian music and literature dedicated to him was unmarked. Among many other cuts

Singer Manizha, in red, represented Russia at Eurovision 2021 with an ode to female empowerment

The main objective, of course, is to target Putin's government, but such boycotts end up hitting Russian artists and personalities who could play important roles by assuming antagonistic voices to the official Russian narrative - not without facing the strong repression that already comes taking place on the part of the Putin government. 

writers like Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Aleksiévitch, for example, called on the Russians to disclose what is really happening, since the government omits information about the conflict (independent international vehicles such as BBC, Radio Liberty and Deutsche Welle had their activities interrupted in the country). 

Venice Biennale 

In the visual arts, artists Alexandra Sukhareva and Kirill Savchenkov and curator Raimundas Malašauskas, who would participate in the pavilion of the Russian Federation at the Venice Biennale have resigned, thus canceling Russia's participation in the event. In a note, the biennial expressed “your solidarity for the noble act of courage” and said that it is “alongside the motivations that led to this decision, which dramatically summarizes the tragedy that has devastated the entire population of Ukraine”. 

already the Ukraine's participation is uncertain, despite the fact that the biennial has stated that it is working for it to take place as initially planned. 

Artist Pavlo Makov. Courtesy of the Ukrainian pavilion.

Artist Pavlo Makov and curators Lizaveta German, Maira Lanko and Borys Filonenko stated at the end of February that it would not be possible to continue working on the pavilion project due to the danger to their lives. With flights out of Ukraine suspended, the group is unable to access the materials to recreate a 1995 Makov work, in which water falls through a series of bronze funnels.

NFTs for the cause

In addition to protesting, artists have come together to help the Ukrainian population financially and have used the NFT for that. Amir Fallah, Sara Ludy, Ana Maria Caballero and others organized to create an NFT fundraising project called Art for Ukraine. Each artist involved makes a piece for sale and mints 100 editions of the work, each for 1 Tezos (XTZ) — a currency much cheaper than Ethereum. 1 Tezo is equivalent to just over $3 USD, while 1 Ethereum represents around $2,600 USD. 

gallery view Art for Ukraine.

The choice was deliberate for the project to be inclusive and accessible to both artists and donors. Every time a work is purchased, the proceeds automatically go to seven charities that are helping Ukraine and this is possible through a smart contract that also accepts direct donations from Tezos. According to an article by ARTnews, more than $20 thousand dollars had been collected until yesterday, 7.3

Critic of the Putin government, Nadya Tolokonnikova, one of the founders of the Russian feminist rock band Pussy Riot, launched a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO for short) to raise money for organizations that support Ukrainians who have had to flee their homes or are in danger. According to Smithsonian Mag, they released 10,000 NFTs with the flag of Ukraine, sold for $6.7 million USD.

Other artists have acted on the front line. Ukrainian painter Volo Bevza traveled to Kiev (he lives in Berlin) last month to open his solo show at the WT Foundation, scheduled for February 24, the day of the Russian invasion. He ended up in Lviv, the city through which Ukrainians are trying to escape to Poland. There, he and his traveling companions, his girlfriend, photographer Victoria Pidust, and her younger brother, Mark Pidust, began to contribute to the protection of the territory. 

In the first five days, they worked on the production of metal structures known as “hedgehogs” (porcupines in free translation) in a factory five minutes from the apartment where they were installed. Volo and Mark carried, measured and cut the metal while Victoria took pictures. 

Group built tank traps; photo Victoria Pidust, credit artnet news.

Now, they are waiting for the next step. Men aged between 18 and 60 cannot leave the country. As a Ukrainian citizen, the rule also applies to Volo. He is a professor in Berlin but finds it difficult to get discharged.

Threatened cultural property 

In addition to protecting citizens, eyes are also on collections and works of art in Ukrainian territory. At the end of February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicated that 25 works by painter Maria Prymachenko (1908-1997) were burned at the Ivankiv Museum during the Russian invasion.

Our Army, Our Protectors, 1978, by Maria Prymachenko.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ukraine's Ministry of Culture and Information Policy released guidelines for the protection and evacuation of the institutions' collections shortly before the Russian invasion. THE The International Council of Museums (ICOM) said it is “especially concerned about the risks faced by museum professionals, as well as the threats to cultural heritage caused by this armed conflict”. 


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