Beyond the Spoil Tips: Art Projects About Donbas That Are Worth Knowing

2 february, 2024

Valeria Prylypko

Today, the Ukrainian East and its toponyms are inevitably associated with war. Indeed, over the past 10 years, the word "Donbas" has been inextricably linked to the ATO and the Russian occupation. White spots, myths, and politicized simplifications obscure Ukrainian society's understanding of itself and its individual cultural regions. Yet it is all the more interesting to broaden our understanding of the region and its history. Familiarizing yourself with works about the Ukrainian East is one way to deepen this understanding. Below is a short digest of multimedia projects about Donbas, focusing on local stories and emerging art from the region in recent years.

What to Skim Through

Catalog "Two-Thousand-Yard Stare"

Who: Gareleya Neotodryosh
What: Published in late 2022, the catalog presents works by 62 young Ukrainian artists created after the full-scale invasion and influenced by occupation, violence, and war. The diversity of genres (from comics and photography to performance and painting) and names makes the catalog a powerful representation of contemporary Ukrainian art, unrestricted by hierarchical institutional selection. "The 'two-thousand-yard stare' or an unfocused gaze into the abyss is a symptom of PTSD," the preface reads. "We want our catalog to become an opportunity to look into the eyes of our country through the prism of the reflections of artists who have experienced the wartime terror of the russian army." 
Where: You can order the catalog through the form.

Works by Oleksii Postolenko (Makiivka-Warsaw) from the catalog "Two-Thousand-Yard Stare," 2022.

Art book "Collective fantasies and oriental resources"

Who: curator and researcher Natasha Chychasova and artist Kateryna Aliynyk
What: In the art book, the authors reflect on their personal experiences of the Russian occupation of their native Luhansk and Donetsk since 2014. At that time, their hometowns became the footholds of war. This text embodies the experiences of losing home, traveling to the occupied territories, and the continuous struggle with their own memories and the disappeared landscapes. Earlier, Artslooker published an interview with the authors about the creation of the zine and Eastern Ukrainian identity.
Where: via the link on the Asortymentna Kimnata website.

The cover of the art book “Collective Fantasies and Eastern Resources.” Photo from Asortymentna Kimnata.

Book "The Limits of Collaboration: Art, Ethics and Donbas"

Who: Darya Tsymbaliuk and Victoria Donovan, as well as Viktor "Corwic" Zasypkin, Oleksandr Kuchynskyi, Katoryna Siryk, Dmytro Chepurnyi
About: Born out of conversations between artists and researchers, the book tells about the perceptions and legacies of Donbas. The results of these discussions offer a critical rethinking of the process of cooperation, its advantages and limitations, as well as the unique and rich context of the contemporary Ukrainian east. 
Where: The book in pdf format can be downloaded here.

Cover of the book “The Limits of Collaboration: Art, Ethics, and Donbas.” Photo from the project page.

What Has Already Happened

A triangle and a straight line. Exhibition by Gareleya Neotodryosh

Who: curator Vitaliy Matukhno 
About: Vitaliy Matukhno has been working with Donbas artists since 2019. Together, they rethink the territory as an industrial paradise, a hell of the Russian-Ukrainian war, a space frozen in uncertainty. This is the first institutional exhibition of works by Gareleya Neotodryosh, an informal art project born in Lysychansk.
Where: Lviv Municipal Art Center

Oleksandr Kuchynskyi. Works from the series "Thirteenth Region", 2019-2021. Photo by Valeria Prylypko.

The project "Soledar. Salty History"

Who: Mykhailo Kulish and colleagues with the support of the Izolyatsia Foundation and the Danish Cultural Institute 
About: The history of the Bakhmut region is closely connected with salt, the main resource of the territory. The full-scale Russian invasion reminded Ukrainians of Soledar and its historical and industrial value: salt that flavored the meals of millions of Ukrainians. The project tells the story of the city's development from the small communities of the first salt workers through the heyday of Ukraine's salt industry to the Russian occupation. Nowadays, the city almost does not exist, salt production has been stopped, which makes it a story about the past. But not forgotten.
Where: Project website.

Screenshot from the project website.

"Renaissance in Time of War. Luhansk. Displaced Museum." The exhibition  in Geneva

Who: Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore
What: The exhibition tells about the Luhansk Regional Museum of Local Lore, which has been in a state of constant survival since 2014. The history of the museum is filled with the figures of people who preserve and support the life of the museum in the conditions of war. The project also draws attention to the topics of protection and evacuation of museums near the contact line. 
Where: University of Geneva. Exhibition catalogue.

Poster for the exhibition "Renaissance in Time of War. Luhansk. The Displaced Museum" in Geneva. Photo from open sources.

What’s Coming

The premiere of “Gray Bees” film

Who: director Dmytro Moiseev, based on the novel by Andriy Kurkov 
About: The film tells the story of two retired people living in the war-torn east of Ukraine near the frontline. Classmates and enemies since childhood, they navigate life under constant shelling and continue to be human: one takes care of bees and the Ukrainian military, the other hosts pro-Russian separatists. 
Where: The premiere will take place at the 53rd Rotterdam International Film Festival. 
When: The film festival will run through January 25 to February 4, 2024.

Photo from the film set of the"Gray Bees," directed by Dmytro Moiseev. Source: New Ukrainian Cinema, 2022.

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