The Many Faces of Ukrainian Photography Today


PHILADELPHIA CREAM – Ukrainian photography today, while small (it includes 23 images in all), packs a punch. Curated by Irina Glik, a Ukrainian-American photographer and writer from Kyiv, and Print Center curator Ksenia Nouril, the exhibition showcases the work of four female photographers from different parts of Ukraine.

Many of the works on display look back on the eight-year armed conflict that was the prelude to Russia’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February.

Some common themes resonate through the show – a search for national and personal identity; childhood, youth and motherhood in times of war; loss and reconnection — but the exhibition is less an exploration of a unified motif than a representation of the different conceptual and aesthetic frameworks within which artists work in Ukraine today.

Alena Grom, “Ancestral Quarter. Donbass. Selidovo / Entrance to the cemetery. Donbass. Novotroitsk”, from the series Pendulum (2018)

War is ever-present in the powerful diptychs of Alena Grom, a Donetsk-born documentary photographer who fled the Donbass region in 2014. Each photograph shows the formalistic detachment of someone who has been made an outsider in their own country, combined with the deep sympathy and identification of a native who has seen Russia mercilessly destroy and repress his own region and people. The Diptychs, from the series Pendulum, combine the image of a war ruin with a child’s portrait. The only exception is a dark Soviet-era hospital ward against a backdrop of an image of an Orthodox cemetery. The rounded blue-green gate to the cemetery echoes the metallic bed of the ward in shape and color – the two silent paintings alluding to the interconnection that exists between their spaces.

Yelena Yemchuk’s work is an immigrant’s love letter to Odessa. Yemchuk left his native Kyiv for the United States in the early 1980s and traveled extensively in Ukraine after the Maidan Revolution to document Odessan’s youth – teenagers in military training, young lovers, children seeking of a new post-Soviet country. identify. His photographs read like film stills: they invite viewers to unravel the greatest stories and lives wrapped up in their frozen milliseconds.

Yelena Yemchuk, “Lera”, from the series Odessa (2016)

Kateryna Yermolaeva turns inward to explore her own conflicting polyphony of what she calls her “sub-personalities”: nine avatars – women, men, non-binary people, children – each with a unique name, character traits , a dress and accessories that embody an aspect of the artist’s life. The project is both an inquiry into the self and an attempt to find deeper resonances between its fractured inner landscape and the many facets of Ukraine’s collective psyche.

Oksana Parafeniuk connects decades of time in a single image. In a series called wooden box of photographs, the artist merges Soviet-era black-and-white photos of his own family with modern portraits of a Ukrainian family displaced by war. Embedding displaced family members, who have recently lost their homes, into images from her own distant family past, she shelters refugees in the nooks and crannies of memory. The now and then come into intimate contact to reveal a story about one’s roots, uprooting and the power of connection through time.

Kateryna Yermolaeva, “Edik”, from the series Me, me and me (2018)

Ukrainian photography today continues at the Print Center (1614 Latimer Street, Philadelphia, PA) through November 12. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Ksenia Nouril with Irina Glik as exhibition advisor.

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