In February 2017, the English version of the book “Kazimir Malevich. Kyiv period 1928-1930” was presented at College Art Association conference in New York. Together with the colloquium “Ukrainian modernism in global context” they are another step to revealing the Ukrainian period of the artist. During a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center the author of the book, publishing house representatives and patrons of the project told about the feedback they received after the presentation.
According to project organizers, the book and the new facts about Kyiv period became a real discovery for the international public, together with the fact that Malevich was a Ukrainian avant-garde artist. “Everyone knows who Malevich is, but few people knew about his connection with Kyiv. […] We need more discussions about this book, because this one was only the start. We should talk more about Kyiv period and open these facts for the international public. Our colleagues from abroad noted that there are few good books in English and few experts address this issue on the international conferences, they call upon us to tell more about it,” said Tetiana Filevska, compiler of the book.
Lidiia Lykhach, director of the publishing house “Rodovid”, expressed the gratitude for the support provided to the project by Foundation of Zahoriy Family, Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, IZOLYATSIYA foundation and others who contributed to English edition. According to her, the support was substantial, because everyone understands the significance of such projects. “Our history comes back from oblivion, and Malevich is among those personalities who should be discussed everywhere around the world,” noted Liudmyla Zubko, patron of the project.
Russian vs. Ukrainian Malevich
After the presentation, Ukrainian experts had a tense debate with a Russian art expert Aleksandra Shatskih, one of the leading researchers of Malevich heritage, who decisively disagreed with the attempt to present Malevich as Ukrainian artist. She backed her position by the argument that avant-garde artists usually were against identifying themselves with any ethnicity. “They really did, but today they are often represented as Russian avant-garde artists. So, we have the situation when Russian art experts use these artists in their discourse about Russian art, despite their position, and Ukrainian art experts are supposed not to do that. The second counterargument is that almost all these artists earlier or later addressed the issue of their ethnicity, even if their position was altering throughout life. We definitely know from the documents that Malevich had many times identified himself as Ukrainian,” Filevska noted.
She added that paintings by Malevich differ a lot from representatives of Russian avant-garde by peculiarities of coloristic structure and composition, however, there are elements of Russian, Belorussian and Polish avant-garde. In a number of application forms, he identified himself as a representative of Kyiv school.
Ukraine should present itself to the world through culture
Future discovery and discussion of Malevich’s Kyiv period should be continued through grassroots cultural projects and initiatives, but this issue also needs more attention in the academic discourse and support from the state, for instance, to organize exhibitions abroad, because the resources of civil society initiatives are not sufficient for this.
“There are a lot of famous personalities who are rarely known to the world as representatives of Ukrainian art. […] Culture is one of our advantages, and it is very important to promote cultural messages abroad. It is a bad idea to communicate requests and problems only, it is important to communicate our strong points, to show in what aspects Ukraine is unique, to show our advantages, how we can be useful to the world, to tell about our creativity and talent to innovations, because Malevich took many of his ideas from Ukrainian culture and anarchic Ukrainian mentality,” noted Olesia Drashkaba, creative director of Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “These are small steps which we need to do to position Ukraine as a cultural, pro-European and subjectival country”. She noted that it would be a good idea to mark “the sites of Malevich” on the map of Kyiv, because it may be interesting for guests from abroad who are to arrive for Eurovision Song Contest.
Lidiia Lykhach added that the next projects will be about avant-garde artists from various fields of art, for instance, artists Oleksa Hryschenko and Oleksandra Ekster and actor Les Kurbas; also, the book “New generation: modernism in Ukraine” by Myroslava Mudrak is to be published.