War in Ukraine | On Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage and Art Now

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on March 22, 2022

A selection of essays addressing the crucial role of art and culture in the war . . . Information on sites where one can contribute include Forbes, UNICEF, The Art Newspaper, HyperAllergic, and the Global Heritage Fund.

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From The Conversation:

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, “Ukraine: Heritage Buildings, If Destroyed, Can be Rebuilt But Never Replaced,” The Conversation (14 March 2022).

The tragic loss of life and desperate living conditions caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have gripped the world’s attention. However, another threat looms for the country’s heritage architecture, including United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage monuments of global significance. These buildings lie directly in the line of fire as Russian forces advance on Kyiv and increase bombardments near Lviv. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay has called for the protection of these testimonies to the country’s “rich history.” . . .

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Bailey’s essay includes a link to Evan Rail’s article:

Evan Rail, “‘This Is Everyone’s Culture’: Ukraine’s Architectural Treasures Face Destruction,” The New York Times (11 March 2022). The country’s vast array of historic buildings, artworks and public squares are an integral part of Ukraine’s cultural identity. Amid the violence of war, many are being reduced to rubble.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought searing images of human tragedy to witnesses around the world: thousands of civilians killed and injured; broken families, as mothers and children leave in search of refuge while fathers and other men stay behind to defend their country; and millions of refugees having already fled to neighboring countries, after just two weeks of war. In addition to that human suffering, a second tragedy comes into focus: the destruction of a country’s very culture. Across Ukraine, scores of historic buildings, priceless artworks and public squares are being reduced to rubble by Russian rockets, missiles, bombs and gunfire. . . .

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From The Washington Post:

Max Bearak and Isabelle Khurshudyan, “‘All Art Must Go Underground:’ Ukraine Scrambles to Shield Its Cultural Heritage,” The Washington Post (14 March 2022).

Emptying a museum is a gargantuan task, and the entire workforce of the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv had been at it for a week before the final piece—a century-old portrait of the museum’s namesake—was taken down, leaving the last of its walls bare.

Ihor Kozhan, the director of the grand gallery opposite Lviv’s opera house, explained the rush. “There is an egomaniac in Moscow who doesn’t care about killing children, let alone destroying art,” he said. “If our history and heritage are to survive, all art must go underground.”

Across Ukraine, artists, gallerists, curators and museum directors are desperately but carefully unhooking, wrapping and stashing away the country’s hefty cultural endowment as Vladimir Putin’s onslaught closes in. Statues, stained-glass windows and monuments are being covered with shrapnel-proof material. Basement bunkers are crammed with paintings. . . .

Saving art was secondary only to saving lives, many of those interviewed said, because Ukrainians’ pride in their culture serves as a deep well of inspiration for its resistance to invasion. Putin has made it clear that he considers Ukraine to be part of greater Russia, a contention artists here say denies Ukraine’s distinct heritage.

“With each invasion, some loss of culture is inevitable,” said Taras Voznyak, director of the Lviv National Art Gallery. “Putin knows that without art, without our history, Ukraine will have a weaker identity. That is the whole point of his war—to erase us and assimilate us into his population of cryptofascist zombies.” . . .

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From The Washington Post:

Peggy McGlone, “A Lab in Rural Virginia Is Racing to Preserve Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage,” The Washington Post (19 March 2022).

In the southwest corner of rural Virginia, about 5,000 miles from the war zone, a small but mighty team of archaeologists, historians and high-tech mapping experts are using sophisticated satellite imagery to help to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage. Housed in the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, the Cultural Heritage Monitoring Lab is the museum world’s version of a war room: a network of computers, satellite feeds and phones that represents one of the newest tools being employed to protect national treasures threatened by natural disasters or geopolitical events.

Created last year in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Cultural Rescue Initiative—a world leader in this field—the lab is compiling imagery of Ukraine’s cultural sites to help track attacks on them. The goal is to quickly alert officials in Ukraine of damage, in case action can be taken—perhaps to protect artifacts exposed to the elements, or to board up stained-glass windows in the wake of a direct hit on a church—and to document the devastation.

“It’s a 24/7 operation,” director and archaeologist Hayden Bassett said, adding that the staff of six has been working 12 and 18 hours at a stretch to maintain their rapid response. “Even though we might not be staring at a screen at 3am, our satellites are imaging at 3am.”

Using their database of 26,000 cultural heritage sites—including historic architecture, cultural institutions such as museums and archives, houses of worship and places of archaeological significance—Bassett and his team of art historians, analysts and techies have identified several hundred potential impacts in the conflict’s first few weeks. . . .

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From NPR:

Lauren Frayer and Olena Lysenko, “How Some People Are Trying to Make Art, Not War, in Ukraine Right Now,” NPR Morning Edition (17 March 2022).

[Lyana] Mytsko [director of Lviv Municipal Arts Center] says artists and musicians keep contacting her and asking how they can help. Here’s what she tells them: “Art is not an extra little thing—a sidebar—in this war. Putin has said Ukraine is not a real country—that it doesn’t have a real culture of its own. Go out and prove him wrong” . . . .

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From i:

Isabella Bengoechea, “Ukraine War: Cancelling Russian Culture Is a Mistake and Helps No One But Putin, Say Art Lovers,” The i Paper (21 March 2022). Alex Beard, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House, told i: “Swan Lake is for everybody.”

Since Russian bombs began falling on Ukraine, the world has united to make known its disgust for Vladimir Putin’s regime through sanctions targeting Russia’s economy, its business, military and its elites. However, high culture, traditionally a jewel in the crown of Russia’s soft power, has not escaped scrutiny. Russian performers have been dropped. Musicians have been told to denounce Mr Putin. Performances of Russian works have been cancelled—literally and figuratively—across the West. Vissi d’arte has been tried and found wanting, as the theatre of war bleeds into the concert halls and opera stages of the world.

This month, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra cancelled a Tchaikovsky evening because of the conflict, while the Russian composer’s 1812 Overture was dropped from the Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Spectacular concerts, by Japan’s Chubu Philharmonic, by the Akashi Philharmonic and the Zagreb Philharmonic.

Switzerland’s Théâtre Bienne Soleure replaced Tchaikovsky’s Ukraine-based romantic opera Mazeppa over concerns about depicting war on stage, while the Polish National Opera cancelled a performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, about the downfall of a murderous tsar. Then two university ensembles, Trinity Orchestra and UCD Symphony Orchestra, said they would remove all music by Russian composers from the repertoire.

“This is a mistake,” said Maksym Tymoshenko, President of the Ukrainian National Tchaikovsky Academy of Music in Kyiv, whose musicians made headlines this month staging an outdoor concert in the city’s Independence Square. Mr Tymoshenko told i: “We disagree with banning Russian music. We don’t think it’s appropriate or reasonable. That you cannot perform great works of art, whether 1812 or others, is very twisted logic. Modern Putin’s Russia has nothing to do with the great Russian culture. By banning it we are not doing anybody a favour.” . . .


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