There were not so many bold spirits in the now remote 1980s, who dared speak about the Holodomor, a horrible tragedy of the Ukrainian people. One of them was Volodymyr Loboda, a painter, graphic artist, sculptor, architect, poet, and essayist, a bright representative of the Ukrainian Underground. The album of engravings Famine-Requiem issued by Lviv’s publishing house Astroliabia is a rarity, for only 150 copies have been printed.
Mr. Loboda belongs to the artists for whom interpreting their epoch as a question of memory is the sense of life. It is for this reason that the reminiscences of family members, relatives, and acquaintances about the 1932-33 Famine prompted the artist to execute 16 engravings to mark the 50th anniversary of this sorrowful date. They formed the basis of the book Famine-Requiem. At a time when the majority glorified “happy life” and freedom languished in prison camps, this was undoubtedly a challenge. The engravings show “life under the cross as a symbol of suffering, fortitude, and honor. The 16th, final, engraving depicts a warrior with a sword (Hope!) as a symbol of human grandeur and beauty, the spirit of eternity.” These words belong to Vasyl Stetsyk, the author of the preface to the book, a fried of the artist.
Each engraving is accompanied by the author’s versified text. Here is the text of the central verse, “I’m sitting” to the first engraving: “I’m sitting / like a madman / and perhaps not powerless / is this all really true / and what does it carry / and memory drinks everything utterly / and complains and demands its own / and that cross is / like the finger of fate / footprints in the snow / a thaw / a moment vanishes / and Sodom continues / under the cross.” Each word is capacious, full of a deep sense, suffering, and multi-valued metaphors. Loboda is keenly aware of his people’s pain and irreparable losses.
Today we are reaping the fruits of the totalitarian regime’s inhuman outrage against its citizens, mainly Ukrainians, most of which lived in the countryside. The severe trauma is still making itself felt in the unwillingness to remember the past and in an indifferent attitude to it. The artist-philosopher’s diagnosis coincides with that of James Mace who called our society post-totalitarian and post-genocidal, with all the dramatic consequences that this implies. Yet in the last, 16th, engraving, the artist expresses a belief and a hope in the firmness of human spirit in the face of any tragic circumstances. As a man of freedom, willpower, dignity, and spiritual fortitude, Volodymyr Loboda convinces us that only memory and catharsis will make us stronger, spiritually richer, and successful.