‘Stand with Ukraine in its fight for life, freedom, independence, and democratic values.’ The organisers of the Ukrainian Pavilion for this year’s Venice Biennale have issued a statement protesting Russian representation at the exhibition. The artists and curator for the Russian pavilion have since pulled out, and a statement by its organisers suggests that it will remain closed. But the organisers for the Ukraine Pavilion have decided to make their position clear nonetheless, especially in the face of – as they write – the ‘little to no institutional pressure […] applied by art institutions that proclaim their mission to stand for democratic values.’
The statement in full:
The Ukrainian pavilion welcomes the decision of the Russian pavilion to close this year. However, we deem it necessary to publish our statement, which was ready to go live on the morning of 28 February, to make our point clear. The fact that this decision was driven by the individual artists and the curator of the pavilion, not by its commissioners or the organisers of La Biennale speaks for itself. Little to no institutional pressure was applied by art institutions that proclaim their mission to stand for democratic values.
The Russian pavilion was built with the money of Bohdan Khanenko – a distinguished Ukrainian collector and philanthropist, whose collection became a foundation for the most important museum of the Western and Eastern art of Ukraine, founded by his wife Varvara in Kyiv, according to his will.
This pavilion is just another piece of loud evidence of Russian cultural appropriation. Its acceptance by the artistic community demonstrates that institutions just slowly catch up with the changes, and are not ready to initiate them.
THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF THE TEAM OF THE UKRAINIAN PAVILION REGARDING RUSSIAN REPRESENTATION AT LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA
Dear friends, colleagues, and community.
In the last couple of days, the Pavilion of Ukraine has received dozens of messages of support and offers to help. We would like to take this opportunity and thank everyone for the kind words — they help us get through the hard times.
We have also been asked multiple times how we feel about the Russian pavilion participating at La Biennale di Venezia.
We’re answering this question while hiding in bomb shelters, evacuating art pieces, standing in hours-long traffics jams, and sheltering with our families – all accompanied by the sounds of rockets, attack helicopters, fighter aircraft, bullets, bombs, and constant sirens and explosions. Every evening on the horizon we see rhythmic flashes – a horrifying visual caused by multiple launches of Grad rockets and blown-up oil depots. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a strategic object and a memorial of mistakes made by modern society, is currently occupied by Russian troops.
We’re answering this question eight years after Crimea’s annexation, the occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk, and a direct assault on Ukrainian independence. We’re answering this question following hundreds of years of cultural appropriation, forcible russification, the banning of the Ukrainian language, and prosecution of Ukrainian artists by the Russian and Soviet states.
We are against the presence of the Russian pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia.
Right now Russia is a militant state-aggressor with imperialistic ambitions. It is led by a terrorist, determined to destroy not only the independent Ukrainian nation but undermine the stability of the whole European civilization. While the president of Russia may not represent all its citizens, he has been in power for decades, and yet his authoritarian rule has not been challenged at home. For years the vast majority of Russian citizens have been making a choice to be complicit in his decisions.
All these years the global society frowned upon Russian actions but continued to enable the aggressor by allowing Russia to be a part of political, informational, economical and cultural discourse.
It is time to change this.
We absolutely support the statement of La Biennale di Venezia that international exhibits are platforms for collaboration and dialogue. That said, we have received tons of messages of support and concern from the whole world, and none of those were from the Russian institutions or their Ministry of Culture.
Other pavilions, collectors, curators, researchers, and just random art lovers reached out and offered their assistance. We never heard an offer of help from the Russian artists or commissioners of the pavilion whose army is currently bombing us and forcing us into shelters or exile. The only person who contacted us in light of these events was the former invited curator Raimundas Malašauskas, who announced his resignation.
We believe that dialogue is about two-way communication, not an imposed agenda. That’s why we don’t believe that Russia should be a part of La Biennale. Suffice to say that Russia’s attack on Ukraine began on the night of 24 February during a UN meeting.
Dear friends, colleagues, community. In the last couple of days, the Pavilion of Ukraine has received dozens of messages of support and offers to help. We would like to take this opportunity and thank everyone for the kind words – they help us get through
At the roundtable discussion to prevent war, Russians cynically persuaded the world that war is the best way to defend their own worldview. All this in addition to centuries of cultural appropriation, plunder of cultural artifacts, persecution, political pressure on artists, and propaganda.
While a few artists have demonstrated solidarity with Ukraine, the national pavilion of Russia is subject to the will of the Ministry of Culture – the governmental body, whose mission is to broadcast an imperialistic Russian narrative and chauvinistic values. By allowing this body to be a part of the International Art Exhibition, we provide a platform for Russian influence.
The work on the Ukrainian pavilion is currently suspended: the team is scattered around the country and focused on preserving their lives and art pieces, rather than dedicating their time to preparations. The war imposed by Russia puts us at a disadvantage and prevents Ukraine from participating in La Biennale di Venezia dialogue.
Most political, economical, informational, and cultural joined forces to limit Russia’s impact and access to the achievements of democratic societies. We encourage the artistic community and institutions, especially La Biennale, to deprive the Russian regime and propaganda machine of yet another opportunity to set its cultural agenda.
Our colleagues from Europe and the US demonstrate radical solidarity with Ukraine. Many independent artists, curators and representatives of friendly pavilions are against Russian representation at La Biennale, including the Lithuanian and Estonian pavilions that initiated an open letter to ban Russia from the exhibit. We encourage our colleagues, willing to support the Ukrainian art community and the pavilion, to join this movement and demonstrate their support.
Stand with Ukraine in its fight for life, freedom, independence, and democratic values.