That evening at the Small Gallery of the Mystetsky Arsenal was as hot as any in Mexico. An exhibit of documentary photographs, dedicated to two legendary Mexican artists and public figures, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, had attracted quite a crowd. The curator, Nadia Pereviznyk, helped the guest relish the Mexican atmosphere.
“It is not without a reason that the exhibit is called ‘Communion.’ The Mexican authors, which completed it, meant the synchronism of the two artists with the epoch. They quite correctly believe that it is the epoch that helped shape those two. I also like the idea which I share with my Mexican counterpart: ‘It is Diego and Frida that helped shape the epoch.’ So it is quite possible that it is the epoch that became synchronized with them. It is hard to overestimate what these two did for Mexico, and what Mexico did for them. Mexico City still boasts numerous murals by Rivera, permeated with history and the epoch’s key political ideas.”
National identity has an important place in both Frida and Diego’s life and career. Could they have established themselves without it?
“No, this is impossible in principle. They took pride in pre-Columbian culture. Diego and Frida were staunch patriots and champions of their true national identity. The Mexican revolution induced citizens to ponder over ‘new Mexico,’ and search for a new dimension of nationalism and ‘new Mexican identity.’ It is fantastic how these ardent patriots blended the national and revolutionary ideas.”
Why should this be interesting for us?
“We are going through very similar processes. Twenty years ago a huge empire collapsed, and the former union republics began searching for their place. Ukraine is still searching for its identity. What is it to the world: trademark Ukrainian cuisine, the artist Maria Pryimachenko, the Klitschko brothers, or Chornobyl? At a certain point in time, Mexico passed this stage. Diego suggested Frida wear a national costume of a certain state. By the way, Mexico’s official name is the United Mexican States. If they had lived in Ukraine, Diego would have said, ‘Sweetie, what do you say to Hutsul dress?’”
How did the public respond to the exhibit?
“I had had serious misgivings that people would only scan the bills, and come to see Frida Kahlo’s paintings. Fortunately, my fears were totally groundless. Frida and Diego is a brand, so we had a crowd of guests. Nearly a hundred visitors on a weekday, without public presentations and excursions is a very good result for any gallery in Kyiv. Usually you can only see lines of people outside the Mystetsky Arsenal and Pinchuk Art Center.”
How did the exhibit impress the Ukrainian public?
“As I am extensively engaged in culture and art projects, I work a lot with the Ukrainian art brand at home and abroad. This is an example of how a nation can promote itself internationally. Mexico made this collection of photographs and broadcasts itself in various countries. This is a good example of the way you should work for our authorities. A simple, small-scale project (only 35 photographs), but it is very efficient. The budget of the exhibit is minute. Our only expenditures include diplomatic correspondence, a banner, and wine. This is rather a matter of passion and love for art than a matter of money.
“Personally for me, it is an incentive to take some paintings by Pryimachenko or Bilokur, do some campaigning at home, storm the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and hold an exhibit abroad. Here people can read that both organizers are non-commercial structures, the Embassy of Mexico and the Mystetsky Arsenal. You cannot see a whole graveyard of logos and endless thanks to sponsors. For many intelligent people this is a good chance to get themselves thinking.”