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“People’s support inspires me”

Den visits Rustem Skibin’s Kyiv studio
25 December, 10:34

Rustem Skibin is a well-known master of Crimean Tatar art, particularly ceramics, and founder of the El-Cheber studio. Den’s readers know him by many publications about his exhibits in Crimea and Kyiv (see, for example, No.120 of July 12, 2013) and his forced departure from the peninsula (see Den, No.59 of April 2, 2014). And Den visited the other day his Kyiv studio at 33/37 Hlybochytska St., which Skibin had recently opened by his own efforts.

“This Tamga center of the El-Cheber studio is our initiative. It is totally at our own expense that we rented these premises and set up a center where we can gather and communicate. We began to do all this as long ago as April – we tried to persuade the Ministry of Culture and the Kyiv City Administration that it was necessary to establish a center like this, but it was difficult,” Skibin says. “The Crimean House building is so far in an emergency condition [the Cabinet resolved on May 16 that it would be a state-run entity. – Ed.]. Now, as far as I know, it is under active repairs. We hope to find a place there. But we can’t wait. We have set up this studio and a nongovernmental organization that comprises masters, craftsmen, artists, and other people associated with culture.”

Of course, the annexation of Crimea and forced resettlement has affected the creative mood. “My El-Cheber studio in Crimea mostly focused on the craft itself. We used to collect and process objects of art and conduct master classes. It is a very hard time now, and emphasis should be put on something else,” the master says. “For this reason, I have in fact not been working – with my hands – for almost a year since the Maidan. I am trying to paint a little, but we mostly busy organizing exhibits and master classes as well as taking part in roundtables. For example, our studio has already hosted a number of charitable master classes with psychologists – the volunteers who help our soldiers in hospitals by way of art therapy and tactile sensations. I furnished them with premises and appliances.”

The style of the non-Crimean art ceramics remains traditional. “The first items made here is pottery, a joint effort with a well-known Kyiv master,” Skibin says. “He made the objects because I didn’t have a potter’s wheel, and I then painted them over. Now I have a possibility to turn a wheel, for we have bought the equipment owing to a UN grant. These works have even taken part in an all-Ukrainian exhibit.”

As a matter of fact, Skibin says, the main reason why he is in the capital of Ukraine is a possibility for Crimean Tatar culture to go outside the peninsula. “Our culture, especially fine arts and handicrafts, are the first hostages to this kind of events. We’ve had a 230-year-long experience since the first annexation. With this in mind, I am trying not to repeat the previous mistakes. For this purpose, we should take our culture outside Crimea to protect it from bad influences.”

Where is the strength and inspiration from? Not from the state. “It is from the ordinary people. You feel strength and support thanks to them,” Rustem says. “I came here in March and the next day dropped in to my friends who had organized the Crimea-SOS campaign,” the master recalls. “I   was to bring the artworks, have them preserved, guarded, and then displayed in Ukraine. I was a call center volunteer for two months. Those two months made me stronger and inspired me for further work. For example, you receive a call from a 90-year-old woman in eastern Ukraine: ‘Hold on over there! I can’t help you but can support you at least in this way.’ There were a lot of calls like this. People openly offered accommodation and meals – they were even ready to meet us on the border, if necessary.”

Skibin’s plans include cultural events in Warsaw and Kramatorsk. “I’ve planned to do some creative work for a few months. We want to hold an exhibit based on my collection of Crimean art at Kyiv’s Honchar Museum. And now we will be writing letters and speak again to representatives of the vice premier in charge of humanitarian policies and of the Kyiv City Administration about the necessity of establishing a state-run Crimea Tatar cultural center. We would like this center to be expanded next year and partly house our handicraft workshops in which we could further enrich our experience and conduct master classes for Kyivites and guests from other cities. It is also a base for the invited Crimean masters who could come here to hold workshops and master classes. I expect the state to begin to understand us and seek a possibility to offer support. We want a gallery. But, so far, let me thank this building’s owner who has even provided us with office furniture from his own stocks – we did not have to buy it. Let me thank the ordinary people,” Skibin says in conclusion.

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