War has often produced some of the most recognised pieces of artwork in the world.
Simultaneously, war often leads to the mass destruction of art.
The initial statement of this article might come as no surprise. Maybe it’s even obvious that this would be the case. After all, many of us would associate art with pain or hardship in some form. However, art in wartime means more than just capturing the fighting. Art in war time has the ability to become an incredibly powerful tool of protest, inspiring others to join resistance movements. It can be an escape from the difficulties being faced, helping to increase the morale of a nation. It even has the ability to become some of the most important propaganda in the course of history.
In Ukraine, artists and Museums are using their work to present an incredibly defiant stance against the Russian invasion. One artist who has gained considerable media attention for his refusal to stop the opening of his solo show is Volo Bevza. His exhibition, titled ‘Soft Image’ was due to open as Russian forces edged closer to the border of Ukraine. Despite this, Bevza was determined for the show to go ahead, stating that he saw the exhibit as “a kind of protest against Russian aggression… spreading panic, misinformation, disorientation, and fear is at the core of the Russian hybrid war against Ukraine. So, we thought we’ll just continue doing our job, as small and unimportant it may seem to be.”
Although the artist was eventually forced to shut the exhibition as citizens were urged to stay inside, his determination is a testament to how the creative community views their position of resistance in times of major distress.
Further afield, where artists still have access to material, and most importantly, safe spaces to put on shows, Ukrainian artists have been raising awareness and encouraging others to show empathy. On March 5th, Ukrainian artists led an organised ‘paper planes’ protest at the Guggenheim Gallery in New York City. Lika Volk, one of the artists involved, stated that the message behind the planes was to “show people what it feels like when danger comes from the sky.”
Museums, filled with items of national pride and history, come with a unique set of challenges when faced with the impending fear of invasion. They hold literal links to the past. Destroy these and can a country still feel connected to their past, and thus their idenitity? As the director of the The Mystetskyi Arsenal (one of the most significant museums In Ukraine) said during an interview with the BBC, “”We are facing not just an attack on Ukraine but an attack on our culture.” Like many other workers within the cultural industry, she made the decision to stay in Ukraine to help protect the objects within her institution.
Others did not have the time, staff or choice to do the same. The race to safeguard objects of importance is difficult, and already there are reports of Russian forces destroying 25 works made by the celebrated Ukrainian artist Maria Prymachenko in the town of Ivankiv.
More works will be burnt, vandalised, or stolen. Yet, it’s almost certain that the spirit of creativity will continue to flourish. Imagination can never be destroyed and, if Ukrainian artists have taught us anything so far, the visual arts will continue to stay alive.