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On the cover
¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Kyiv Culture

Colonialism’s Dark Side

The impact Belgium had on the African Congo, a country caught in the worldwide European land-grab of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is at the centre of an exhibition in Kyiv’s PinchukArtCentre this month. Featuring more than 50 works by Belgian multidisciplinary master Jan Fabre, they reveal the sinister past of the Belgian Congo. What’s On meets the artist to get a better understanding of what the works mean.

 In scale, this exhibition is impressive – it features 36 artworks, 23 sculptures and two triptychs by Jan Fabre, with 28 of the works crafted especially for PinchukArtCentre. It comprises two distinct themes Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo and Tribute to Bel­gian Con­go, and the artworks are arranged in a certain order to narrate a well-plotted historical story, which begins with a portrait of King Leo­pold II. It was under his rule Belgium seized Congo during what is known as the “Scramble for Africa” in 1884, with the king categorising the land as a “private garden”. It was a time characterised by atrocities and violence, and considered Congo’s darkest days it leaves an indelible black mark on Belgium’s history.

Swept Under The Carpet
In Belgium, the oppression of the Congolese was, until recently, viewed as a positive, Fabre takes up the story. “We, in Belgium, were allowed to talk about this only recently. In school we were taught quite a different story – the Belgians, ‘good white people’, brought true religion and education to the black Congolese. Yes, we might have done a lot of good things in Congo, but at the same time we stole diamonds, uranium, and other natural resources from the land.” According to Fabre, Leopold built Brussels with money generated in Congo.
Both imagined and real personalities, such as Patrice Lumumba – Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo after he helped win its independence from Belgium in June 1960 to the Belgian colonial rulers, are the focus of Fabre’s works, here in Kyiv until the end of April. He also examines the lives of ordinary civilians and the majestic animals of sub-Saharan Africa, creating a sad but beautiful tale of the Belgian Congo until the coming of independence.

Outstanding Technique
Fabre’s artworks immediately grab your attention due to their bright and supple hues of green, which sparkle, glisten and reflect light. On closer inspection, you notice that these are large-scale mosaics intricately constructed from...beetles! To be more specific – they are made of jewel beetle wing-cases. “No-no-no, I do not kill insects,” Fabre smiles. “I just use the wings that have been discarded.” According to Fabre, people in Congo eat these protein-rich beetles, like oysters or other shellfish, for example, then discard their wings like shells. Fabre cooperates with various restaurants in Congo and entomology institutions that provide him with the necessary volume of “material” for his mosaics. Fabre says, it takes 10,000 jewel beetle wings to complete one piece of artwork, and then there is the painstaking and time-consuming work. The artist has a gaggle of assistants to help, he says. “I make sketches and important drawings; my assistants are responsible for doing the backgrounds. For instance, it took us two-and-a-half months to finish my triptych, had I worked alone, it would have taken me two-and-a-half years!”

Symbolism From Nature
However unusual, Fabre’s medium was chosen for a purpose. Firstly, as an entomologist himself, Fabre has always been inspired by insects’ capacity for metamorphosis and their power of survival. As part of nature, beetles symbolise a bridge between life and death – they die but their beauty doesn’t! Second, Fabre follows a tradition set by old Flemish artists, whose paintings often featured insects and beetles, with the same symbolic meaning. While using this “live material”, Fabre reflects on human suffering and resilience. “Good and evil mark life, I link cruelty and beauty to demonstrate the things we, Belgians, did in Congo during the colonial period.”
Indeed, what strikes most about Fabre’s mosaics is they are not depressing. On the contrary – they feel positive. Their glossy iridescent colours give you a strong feeling of hope. “My mosaics express no cynicism,” Fabre explains. “They talk about awful things, but in an ethical way. They even seduce with their beauty...” Though he calls himself a provincial artist, he is universal in promoting humanism and forcing people to learn from the lessons of history.

Belgian Congo
PinchukArtCentre (Velyka Vasylkivska/Baseina 1/3-2)
7 February – 27 April
at 12.00 –21.00 (Mondays closed)

by Anna Azarova

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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