Maryna Shcherbenko, you direct the Shcherbenko Art Center. How do you deal with practical problems, such as the lack of electricity and the Internet?
Part of our team has moved abroad to live and work there while the war is ongoing in Ukraine. There are various practical problems that impede our work, such as the lack of electricity, the constant alarms, and having to go down to the bomb shelter.
We have run two projects in our space in Kyiv since the outbreak of the war. Oleksandra Tokareva is a Ukrainian artist, whose solo show “Merger” we had opened on February 16, 2022, just before the war began. She presented a series of watercolours that she had worked on for two years. We had to close down the exhibition on February 24, 2022, but luckily we were able to re-open it to the public in August.
“After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it is very difficult for an art institution to fully function. Our audience has changed, and visitors’ demands have also changed”
After Tokareva’s show, we set up something very different. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it is very difficult for an art institution to fully function. Our audience has changed, and visitors’ demands have also changed. Therefore, we teamed up with ‘etchingroom1’, a graphic studio consisting of Ukrainian artists Kristina Yarosh and Anna Khodkova.
Together, we opened the participatory Temporary Studio in our space in Kyiv on September 8. The artists moved their etching machines, furniture, flowers, and other supplies to the exhibition space. They used it as a temporary studio, and visitors could either observe the creative process or join in.
In this way, art became therapeutic, while retaining and showing a traditional technique. We ran a pop-up sale for the prints, and a Print & Drink evening when visitors were able to print their own images on their clothes or paper using lino cuts.
“It is very difficult to work during a power outage. We held some of our meetings with visitors by candlelight”
These events really helped us keep up our spirits. After all, it is very difficult to work during a power outage. We held some of our meetings with visitors by candlelight. Some events were postponed when we received warnings of attack. Today, for example, I had some meetings canceled due to shelling of Kyiv. It is impossible to adapt to this!
How has your program developed since the war?
We have focused on projects that we implement abroad. For example, I organised the exhibition “Give Me Tomorrow”. It presents works by Ukrainian artists in various media such as sculpture, video or watercolors.
Many of these works take the form of a diary. The artists record time, events, states and feelings. It’s a form of coping, of trying to live through these most difficult months through reflection and capturing the present. We have shown this exhibition in Lisbon and Edmonton (Canada).
We are currently cooperating with the Czech Center in Sofia on a series of window exhibitions. We have just finished a show by Vlada Ralko, who showed work from her series “Lviv Diary”. Vlada and her husband had moved to Lviv after Russia’s invasion.
Her drawings on A4 paper allowed her to document her experiences, her thoughts and emotions. Next up in the Window Gallery we will open the exhibit “Self Portraits“ by Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze.
I also continued to work on a long-term project which I started in 2009, the “Young Ukrainian Artists” competition for emerging artists. The last competition happened before the war, in 2021. However, in November, we presented new works of the latest awardees at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Paris.
“Many women artists went abroad, some of them have small children, which makes it very difficult to adapt”
We are also looking for opportunities to come up with new projects. I am currently doing research about the situation of women artists. Many of them went abroad and some of them have small children, which makes it very difficult to adapt. Often their husbands stay in Ukraine, some are at the front while others work.
Meanwhile, male artists are limited in their ability to travel abroad. Therefore, women have the main responsibility to use art to communicate the war and how it affects the lives of Ukrainians. For this project, I am preparing a series of interviews with female artists, which I am planning to publish.
The interview was conducted by Atifa Qazi