A Ukrainian artist makes a cultural stand at the Venice Biennale


VENICE, Italy (AP) — Artist Pavlo Makov’s role representing Ukraine at the Venice Biennale has become an act of defiance against invading Russians, whose attacks on his adopted hometown of Kharkiv have intensified in recent years. days.

Not only are the Russians intent on taking over his country, says the Russian-born Ukrainian national, but they are also determined to erase Ukrainian culture.

“This war in Ukraine is not an ethnic conflict,” Makov, 63, told The Associated Press. “It’s a clash of cultures. They want to destroy, demolish, eliminate Ukrainian culture, so that Ukraine doesn’t exist.”

One of Ukraine’s most important living artists, Makov drove off to the Biennale on March 2, hugging his wife, two family friends and his 92-year-old mother. Missiles flew overhead as they left Kharkiv, he said.

Already the center of the historic city, which was Ukraine’s first Soviet capital and is known for its constructivist architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, had been largely destroyed, including the oblast administration building and the parliament.

Makov left behind his adult son and daughter, who worked as volunteers to help the beleaguered population – and his lifelong production of artwork.

“There was no question about whether to take the art, because there was no room for it,” he said. “Also, we were leaving from the bomb shelter, we weren’t leaving from the house or the studio.”

His works have since been evacuated to safer ground in western Ukraine. Some pieces have already been requested for exhibitions elsewhere.

The copper funnels that make up his sculpture for the Ukrainian pavilion were in kyiv and were driven out of the country by one of the curators, Maria Lanko. Another conservative, Lizaveta German, escaped with her infant son, born in a hospital in the western city of Lviv during a lull between the sirens of air raids. Now a month old, he nurses contentedly in the pavilion near the tinkle of falling water.

Makov’s sculpture, titled “The Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta”, assembles the funnels in a 3 1/2 meter (11 1/2 ft) high cascading fountain against a concrete wall in the Arsenale, which houses the new national pavilions participating in the oldest and the largest contemporary art fair in the world. The 59th Venice Biennale opens on Saturday and will run until November 27.

Makov’s project was inspired by the lack of vitality he felt during Ukraine’s transition to an independent nation in the early 1990s, and again during his travels through Europe in the 1990s. 2000.

“I felt this lack of ability to protect ideas. I felt that this dependence on the energy that Europe received from undemocratic societies was increasing,’ Makov said. This culminated in the pandemic, which conservatives say has come to represent “the buildup of exhaustion” and then war with Russia.

Now in Venice, Makov finds he talks more about the war than his art.

“It’s like a diplomatic mission for us,” Makov said. “I see myself less as an artist and more as a citizen of my country.”

A few steps away in the Giardini, the Russian pavilion, built in 1914, is closed after the withdrawal of the artists from their participation, which had been protested by the artist and the Ukrainian curators. A protest letter signed just days after the February 24 invasions underscores the irony that the Russian pavilion was built with the money of a Ukrainian art collector, Bohdan Khanenko. His collection forms the heart of the country’s most important museum of European, Asian and ancient art, which Makov fears is under threat in Kyiv.

At the Giardini, the curators of the Ukrainian pavilion — German, Lanko and Borys Filonenko — have created a Ukrainian piazza around a mound of sandbags, surrounded by posters made during the war by Ukrainian artists.

They include stylized renderings of soldiers using playground equipment for cover, babies whose worried parents wrote their birthdates and names in permanent markers on their backs, if war separated them, and shipwreck of the Russian warship Moskva.

“You know, the only dialogue we have now with Russian culture is at the front,” Makov said. “No other dialogue exists.”

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