How artists in Ukraine express the art of war.

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While efforts have been made to protect Ukrainian art and artifacts from Russian onslaught, its artists also depict the war and its impact in their works. “The Captured House” opened this week at Espace Vanderburgh in Brussels and features works by contemporary Ukrainian artists made after the February 24 Russian invasion.

“Let this project not become a stream of ‘bad news from Ukraine,’ but your personal conversation with every Ukrainian whose life is in danger in our ‘Captured House’ commune,” says curator Kate Taylor.

We look at exhibition works and war paintings from the 20th century.

Highlights of Ukrainian History

Taylor reportedly came up with the project after noticing Ukrainian artists reacting to the war. Soon she followed the work, leading to exhibitions in Berlin, Rome and Amsterdam.

Taylor states, “It’s not just our war” on the exhibit’s website. This is a war for Europe, which we defend with our lives. People who remain in Ukraine protect the country, help it survive and continue to appeal against war because of our cultural codes, the roots of our common identity, Ukraine’s relationship with Europe and our common values.

The war-themed exhibition features 200 works by 50 Ukrainian artists. When war broke out, Kyiv artist Yuriy Bolsa fled to his village of Volyn “like a child hiding behind his mother”

Alevtina Kakhidze says that in Ukraine “anyone can be annihilated regardless of gender, opinions, good deeds or crimes”. Trees, animals and houses can also be destroyed. Daria Koltsova, based in Odessa, has dedicated her art to children killed by war. She makes a clay sculpture for each child killed in the assault.

She writes on the exhibit’s website, “It’s my ritual to honor every life lost, my way of singing the last lullaby.” Photographer Evgeniy Maloletka shows death and destruction. Death and mourning are the hardest, he writes.

How do Ukrainian artists react to the war?

Ukrainian artists took center stage at the Venice Biennale in April. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said art can share things that cannot be shared otherwise. Tyranny always limits art. They see the power of art. Art expresses emotions.

Works included Pavlo Makov’s “The Fountain of Exhaustion”, an installation of dripping funnels commenting on democracy.

Leading Ukrainian women artists share their wartime experiences at the Fridman Gallery in New York. The Aspen Institute in Colorado is hosting the “Beast of War, Bird of Hope” exhibit, featuring Ukrainian paintings and photographs. One of the most moving photo sequences shows an old woman holding her head, a new mother holding her baby and workers holding body bags in a desolate field, according to the Aspen Institute website.

In the Ukrainian city of Kherson, painters, photographers and playwrights have formed an underground art residence called “Residency in Occupation”.

Ukrainian artists staged an anti-war exhibit at Russia House during the World Economic Forum in Davos in May. The photos depicted war crimes, from wounded to destroyed buildings. Hedwig Fijen, founder and director of Manifesta, proposed that Kyiv host the 2028 edition of the arts event to help rebuild the country’s cultural ecosystem and infrastructure.

Great 20th century war art

The 20th century saw several masterpieces depicting warfare, from its atrocities to the might of the mighty. Picasso’s “Guernica” is a famous war painting. After the Nazi bombing of Guernica, Spain in 1937, the artist painted this oil on canvas. The monumental black and white work shows a wounded horse, a bull, dismembered soldiers and weeping women.

“Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)” by Salvador Dali in 1936 depicts the self-destructive nature of war through a monster.

In Kathe Kollwitz’s 1923 woodcut entitled “War”, the protagonists are elderly mothers, widows and children. Otto Dix’s “Der Krieg” triptych depicted a battlefield with wounded and dead soldiers.

Roy Lichtenstein’s 1963 painting “Whaam!” depicts the Vietnam War using a panel from the 1962 DC war comic “All American Men of War”.