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This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom
JR: Valeriia (2022). Courtesy of the Artist

This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom

Marina Abramović » Yevgenia Belorusets » Olafur Eliasson » JR » Boris Mikhailov » & others

Exhibition: – 27 Nov 2022

Scuola Grande della Misericordia UKR

Sestiere Cannaregio, 3599
3012 Venezia



Tue-Sun 10-18

This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom
Yevgenia Belorusets: The war diary. February-April, 2022. Kyiv (2022).
Texts and photos. Courtesy of the Artist

The PinchukArtCentre and Victor Pinchuk Foundation announce a new focus for their official collateral event, This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice, from 23rd of April until 7th of August 2022. The exhibition, presented in partnership with the Office of the President of Ukraine and Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, champions the work of contemporary Ukrainian artists whilst also contextualizing Ukrainian history and culture with support from international artists. This replaces The Future Generation Art Prize @ Venice 2022.

Across two chapters, the exhibition reasserts Ukraine's cultural resilience that has always defined itself, even in the most challenging times, through its ability to think and create critically. Artists refuse direct war narratives and instead reflect deeply on their meaning, origin, and impact. This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom is about strength, it is about making, it is about friendship. But most of all, it is about our collective freedoms—the freedom to choose, the freedom to speak, and the freedom to exist.

This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom
Boris Mikhailov: Temptation of Deathseries (2017-2019).
C-print. Courtesy of the Artist

The first chapter brings monumental and emotional works from three artists who continue to live and work in Ukraine during Russia's war in Ukraine. The newly created pieces from Yevgenia Belorusets (1980), Niki ta Kadan (1982), and Lesia Khomenko (1980) use the poetics of object evidence and the voice of witness to reflect on the realities of the war they bear witness to.

The second chapter presents Ukrainian artists alongside international artist friends, they overview a deep connection to the country whilst forming a common front against the war. Their works respond to the urgent need for the global community to rally around Ukraine. These include Marina Abramović (Serbia, 1946), Olafur Eliasson (Denmark, 1967), JR (France, 1983), Damien Hirst (UK, 1965) , Boris Mikhailov (Ukraine, 1938), and Takashi Murakami (Japan, 1962). The works on show are, on one hand, in direct response to the war, for example, Damien Hirst made new work for the exhibition, and the work by Murakami's War and Peace (2015) was created directly in support of Ukraine after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. On the other hand, works are chosen together with the artists as personal statements deeply rooted in the urgency to respond. For example, in the work of Marina Abramović, Count on Us (2003), Abramovic says: " Personally, for me, it is very difficult to make an immediate response in a situation of war. I need time to process, and I am always interested in creating something that is not just about the war at that moment but is transcendental and that has a message which can be used for wars anywhere at any time. I presented my installation Count on Us in 2003, and it was related to the Balkan War. Today, truth and freedom are under attack by Russia, and we all must stand up against it because this is a crime against the whole humanity."

Finally, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, also offers an image for the exhibition, a personal quote presented across the national flag reading, ' We are defending our Freedom' .
"This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom is a joint force project between the PinchukArtCentre, the office of the President of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Culture. We conceptualised, prepared and installed the exhibition in less than four weeks, an impossible project for impossible times.

But doing the impossible is what Ukraine does on a daily basis. And for this reason, the exhibition is both necessary and urgent. Ukraine has a strong artistic voice, one that goes beyond direct war narratives but speaks, in the mids of it all critically, of life and survival, of love letters and dreams. We need this voice to be heard, we need to listen to it and rally around it."

Björn Geldhof , Curator of This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom and Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre