At the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, colleagues from cultural institutions elsewhere in Europe began contacting contemporary art curator Vasyl Cherepanyn, asking if he was organizing or designing new projects. in response to the crisis.
Normally, such inquiries would be understandable to Cherepanyn, director of the Kyiv-based Center for Visual Culture Research, which promotes work that engages art and political activism. But right now, he says, art projects aren’t a top priority for many in his beleaguered homeland.
“They just don’t understand what’s really going on,” he said, at a Yale-hosted online event in early March, of these well-meaning requests from colleagues. “I still hold out hope, but I doubt that we will be able to conceive artistic projects in the near future. This that’s what war brings.
This raw expression of frustration and a foregone future in Ukraine was the theme of a series of online conversations launched by the Yale Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) program at the Yale MacMillan Center just after the start of the invasion. . During the series, titled “The Humanity Dialogues,” experts from Yale and other academic institutions were joined by artists, activists, and scholars who live in Ukraine, or have emigrated or fled, for conversations about the crisis through the prism of the arts. and the humanities.
For the first conversation, Cherepanyn, the Ukrainian curator, was joined by Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin professor of history, to discuss the tyranny and agency of artists. For a conversation about cyber resistance, Scott Shapiro, Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law and Philosophy Professor, spoke with Yuliana Shemetovets, a Berarussian activist and spokesperson for Cyber Partisans, a pro-democracy group in Belarus, as well as Ivan, a cyber-activist from Ukraine (who kept his last name hidden for security reasons).
At another event, Olga Kopenkina, curator and art critic of Belarusian origin, Yulia Krivich, Ukrainian artist living in the United States, and Kuba Szreder, researcher and independent curator at the Academy of Fine Arts Warsaw Arts, joined Ukrainian curator and anthropologist Asia Tsisar for a discussion of the modes of action and action that emerged in networks of Central and Eastern European artists in response to the Russian invasion of the ‘Ukraine. In the most recent discussion, William N. Goetzmann, Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Financial and Management Studies, Daniel Glaser, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Simon Johnson , professor of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management, examined how the international art market can be used by those who finance the war effort to evade financial sanctions, and what can be done to fill this escape.
Immediately after the Russian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl nuclear power plants, the organizers invited Kate Brown, professor of the history of science at MIT; Oleksiy Radynski, Ukrainian filmmaker and writer who co-founded the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv; and Svitlana Matviyenko, assistant professor of critical media analysis at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, to discuss the threat.
During this discussion, the group considered the dangerous and unprecedented implications of military forces targeting nuclear facilities and the threat they pose to the region and far beyond.
As noted by Matviyenko, it is not even known how dangerous the situation is, because international monitoring is not possible in these factories – and the plant operators must obtain approval from the Russian army even for minor measurements. Yet this militarization of nuclear power plants, she said, is only the latest chapter in a decades-old story of “nuclear colonialism” in Ukraine. People living near the Chernobyl power plant, for example, faced serious public health threats due to the plant’s mismanagement long before the 1986 disaster that released huge amounts of radioactive material into the environment.
And that’s just part of a narrative of exploitation and militarization that has spanned decades.
“Part of that history has to do with the imperial and colonial appetites that are so present in the narrative we hear from Putin, and all of his pseudo-historical interpretations of Russia-Ukraine relations,” Matviyenko said.
The series was curated by Molly Brunson, REEES faculty director and associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures and art history, and Marta Kuzma, professor of art and former dean of the Yale School of Art, who felt the urgency to react after the invasion, to reflect on how war reveals the fragility of humanity and the “contingency of existence”, and to address the interdependence of art and of politics in societies at war.
Kuzma, who spent the 1990s in kyiv, where she was founding director of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art, tapped into her own personal network to create these events and moderate each of the discussions. Kuzma’s intention was to address the responses of the artistic, academic and intellectual community within war-torn Ukraine with networks of solidarity across disciplines and countries with the aim of conveying the revised role of the artist. and of the cultural producer in such a precarious context.
“We felt it was necessary to bring people together in conversation to address these issues as they arose,” Brunson said. “Furthermore, the dialogue structure allowed us to respond quickly to pressing topics as they arose, meeting the critical education needs of the Yale community and general public, amplifying the voices of Eastern Europe and encouraging the community during such a difficult time. .”
For more information on upcoming events and to watch all of the conversations in the series, visit the Humanity Dialogues website.