The Art of Ukraine

Ukrainian identity, born of a relationship to land, is equally defined by a tumultuous and dark history of political subjugation and resistance. Not surprisingly, the work of creative artists, musicians, writers, poets, potters, dancers, singers, composers, sculpturers, wood carvers, weavers, actors, designers, authors, and folk artists have laid claim to the shifting tides of this history.

Over many centuries, Ukrainian artists have integrated the mystical symbols of the Tree of Life, the sun, and the goddess into their woven textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, and paintings. Perhaps the most widely recognized art form, the pysanky, a colorful, patterned Easter egg, is believed to possess a talismanic power to grant wishes of wealth, a rich harvest, and good health. Intricate patterns drawn on the egg with wax become word pictures, communicating feelings of love, mystery, faith, despair, and hope, after dye is added to give the egg color and the wax is removed.

A lesser recognized art form, the icon painted on wooden board or homemade canvas, dates back to the 17th century. Primarily a folk art created by farmers and peasants, icons resided in a central location in virtually every village house, playing significant spiritual roles in the births, weddings, and deaths of family members. Though much of the icon’s value is traditionally Biblical, the origins of the icon are firmly rooted in legends and folklore and unique in both in its rich color and floral design. Suppressed in the 1920s by the Soviet regime, this folk art has experienced a renaissance over the past few years as exhibitions of both antiquated and new pieces are curated.

Ukrainian paintings, in the tradition of Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s most celebrated artist and poet, depicting the beauty of the land and people continue to thrive today in the work of Anatoly Haydamaka, Andrily Hlazovy, and Karlo Zvirynsky. Yet, a new voice, born out of the Orange Revolution, is calling on artists of every creative form to reassess Ukrainian culture and the country’s place in the world in the 21st century. A recent exhibition, entitled Ukrainian Hermitage, bringing together a group of fifteen young artists, called into question “traditional” art forms. Making a case for continuing the Orange Revolution through the medium of art, the artists are cutting a new path in the history of Ukrainian creative expression.

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