Whose Malevich: how to become a "great culture" by engaging in "cultural piracy" and art smuggling

Whose Malevich? With this question, we are referring to another area of conflict between Russia and Ukraine. And this conflict is no less bloody than the war for territories. After all, this war is about our cultural heritage.

Ukraine has always been a cultural donor to Russia – starting from Pheophan Prokopovych (Ukrainian religious and civic leader of XVII century) to the Viagra (very popular pop-band) – for centuries Ukraine has been supplying the capital of the metropolis with its best artistic works, as well as talents. So now, amid discussions about the cancelling of Russian culture and the dismantling of monuments to Pushkin, we have to decide what should be brought back into our cultural field and what should be left behind forever.

Culture has always been a weapon of "mass destruction" for Russia. Its self-proclaimed "great culture" has served as a successful camouflage to cover up bloody imperial crimes before the face of the civilized world. In addition, under the Russian flag, it often promoted what was not created by Russians, but by representatives of other nations who found themselves under the devastating Russian occupation. For centuries, Russia has shamelessly stolen and is stealing everything it can get, from toilets to museum treasures: it has confiscated Ukrainian history and identity, looted our churches and museums, appropriated our cultural figures and their creative legacy, and even entire artistic movements.

We have to convey to the world's cultural community one simple idea: Russian culture is inherently toxic, because it preaches chauvinism, xenophobia, imperial superiority, paternalism as a basic national trait, clinical cruelty and sadism, but often what the Western world considers Russian is not Russian in fact - it is confiscated cultural heritage, "cultural contraband". The Russian Empire not only seized foreign territories and plundered foreign natural resources, but also appropriated the cultural legacies of enslaved peoples.

Russia is a cynical "cultural raider" that has been engaged in "cultural piracy" for centuries and has been forming its own cultural capital on the basis of smuggling - confiscated cultural heritage from the peoples it has enslaved.

In parallel with the systematic destruction of national cultural elites, the metropolis created conditions under which an artist could realize his or her creative potential and achieve success only if he or she "swore allegiance" to the empire. Therefore, Ukrainian talents were faced with a choice: career, money, security, or exile, a ban on "writing and drawing" or, ultimately, execution. Under the pressure of the forced Russification of the Ukrainian cultural elite, remaining a Ukrainian required a great deal of fortitude. 

After centuries of such cultural genocide, Ukraine has the undisputed right to demand from the world a period of "positive discrimination," which means that what has been oppressed receives priority "access to the microphone" and the most favorable conditions for development. And all Russian culture, without exception, should now be put on mute around the world. And while Russian culture is on pause, we need to carefully sort through the "colonial legacy," process and rethink the "new arrivals," and develop a new cultural doctrine for Ukraine that would take this colonial legacy into account. And to begin with, a list of what was stolen and taken away during the years of Russian/Soviet occupation and what is to be returned as part of restitution-contributions should be compiled - all museum and church collections stolen over the centuries should be returned to Ukraine! We also need to compile a list of names, works, and artistic movements that undoubtedly belong to Ukrainian culture and were brutally appropriated by the Russian/Soviet empire. 

We also need an internal national discussion about artists who worked on the border of two cultures and whose works belong to the common cultural heritage - which of the authors appropriated by Russia can be considered part of the Ukrainian cultural heritage and which of these criteria are mandatory/sufficient/not exhaustive: place of birth, ancestry, place of education, number of works created on the territory of Ukraine, language of the work (for writers), Humboldt's spirit of the people that imbues the work of art, or the realization of "archetypal" Ukrainian narratives, the artist's Ukraine-centered position.

We do not have a definite answer to the complex question of "what makes an artist a Ukrainian artist", therefore we invite the cultural community to reflect on this issue.

posters by Maria Bilinska
texts - Diana Klochko, Yaryna Vynnytska
animation - Bohdan Tkachuk

Author: Ярина Винницька, Діана Клочко

Фотограф/дизайнер: дизайнер Марія Білінська

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