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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“All truth about Crimea. Plein-air chronicles”

This is the name of an exhibit unveiled at the Khlibnia Gallery of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv”
6 August, 2014 - 17:20

The exposition includes some hundred works by various generations of Ukrainian artists, from the 1950s till today. Here one can see paintings en plein air of the most famous seaside resorts, landscape sketches, and just mood drawings.

“Crimea has always been an inspirational place for artists,” said Ukraine’s Minister of Culture Yevhen NYSHCHUK at the opening of the exhibit. “Unfortunately, now it mostly inspires political associations. At this exhibit we can see paintings becoming witnesses of a paradise suddenly lost, becoming an occupation zone as a result of an undeclared war.”

The territory, which is so uninviting now, appears surprisingly idyllic in the paintings, and breathes peacefulness and regularity of its past life. Easily recognizable are the places which until recently were popular with the peninsula’s guests, as well as those which remained terra incognita for tourists.

“The Genoese Fortress in Sudak is integral part of the National Sanctuary ‘Sophia of Kyiv,’” emphasized Olena SEREDIUK, director general of the Sanctuary. “It is a unique 40 hectare archeological monument, 60 sites which are worth to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is a museum collection of 18,000 exhibits which have been, and will be, Ukrainian. This theme sounds particularly strong now, and it is today that historical parallels are so obvious. I cannot but mention the Genoese heritage, the choice they made in the 10th century in the Tauric Chersonesus, Crimea. It was a civilizational choice, when all the Prince’s host with Prince Volodymyr was baptized. That is why the loss of a piece of our history was particularly painful for us.”

“Now that the war is going on, we cannot pretend as if everything was    okay,” said in her speech Tetiana KALYTA, co-organizer of the exhibit. “We suffer a string of losses. Not the loss of land, or resorts, but of what is the most precious: human life. Yet we have gained something: a realization that man must live with dignity, and even in the state of war we must perform our duties calmly and professionally.”

The canvases in the exhibit are in a sharp contrast with the Crimean chronicles of today. The exposition comprises works by the Soviet school of painters: Serhii Poderviansky, Borys Rapoport, Roman Selsky, Hryhorii Sokyrynsky, Yuri Khymych, and Tetiana Yablonska. Themes of socialist realism were exploited in the paintings of Heorhii Melikhov. There are also painters who began their artistic career at the break of 1980s and 1990s (Oleksandr Apollonov, Oleksii Beliusenko, Oleksii Vakarchuk, Borys Yehiazarian, Kateryna Korniichuk, Olena Pryduvalova), and those whose career took shape in independent Ukraine: Oleh Vynnyk-Shtep, Serhii Kovalenko, Viktoria Safina, Artem Tolstukhin, and Volodymyr Shmatko. They have different approaches and manners: Poderviansky chose Hurzuf as his conceptual center and creates dynamic paintings of its various sites (Hurzuf. A Staircase; Hurzuf. A Beach; Hurzuf. Market Stalls), while Sokyrynsky made his vague watercolor seascapes against the background of solid rocks (Cold Wind), and Korniichuk applies unnatural colors and cumbersome shapes to render her perception of the essence of Crimea (Before Shower; Fog).

Pryduvalova presented a series of Feodosia sketches and other paintings resulting from her trips: “It is hard for me to speak about the Crimea of today. I used to work en plein air there almost each year. What mattered for me is that each time the perception of the moment, and my feelings, were different. In the Feodosia series I had a dark sea, and so are my feelings now. What is going on in Crimea today could always be felt in people’s sentiments and their way of life. It was noticeable in everyday life, and it reflects in canvases. I had a feeling that their time stood still in the previous epoch, and what took place now is just a final return to the past.”

These paintings of various genres and times, exhibited at a tragic moment in Ukraine’s history (and this is no exaggeration), have one common leitmotif: the integrity of Ukraine, impossibility of a cultural division even in conditions of an Anschluss.

“I believe time will sort everything out. Art is at any time an illustration of the spiritual dimension of life. It means that we should never forget that a part of our country is ablaze. Each of us must think about what he has done to help, and what could be done tomorrow to change the situation. We have to stick together,” painter Borys YEHIAZARIAN said.

You can see the Crimean plein-air chronicles at the Khlibnia Gallery of the National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv.”

By Natalia VUITIK, Den’s Summer School of Journalism