Irony Curtain: Art, Identity and Politics

The lack of reaction to our first post seems proof of what we were thinking: not being sensational elicited almost no reaction. This is a war of words and information with a lack of objective reporting, but not simply that. In this post, we try to give a voice to artists and activists in Ukraine and Russia. Ask anyone in these places about the developments in the region in 2014, you will be told 'it's a very complicated situation' followed by an emotional, heartfelt opinion. The post is an insight into the complexity, range of opinion and action—there is no dichotomy to explain this crisis.  



Sasha Kurmaz

A street artist and photographer living in Kiev

"The blogosphere in particular carries propaganda that is crass and ugly. The material that fills social media—with examples on facebooktwittervkontakte—is frequently negative, abusive, and replete with calls for mass violence. The material can only be described as hate propaganda directed against Ukraine. Some examples: 'Ukraine does not exist as a country' or 'Support for Ukraine is support for Nazism'. The Ukrainian government and its supporters are called junta, swine, Nazis, Banderites, mongrels', etc. I think that Putin's Eurasianism is a blend of fascism and Stalinism that calls for a revived Russia to extend its borders and to challenge the US and EU. This is now becoming Moscow's bed-rock ideology. This propaganda is insolent and furious, and is meant to disorient.

I try to take a critical position in this situation. The left-most and right-most very clearly express themselves. I try not to talk much, and analyze more. I think participating in Manifesta 10 is not a problem if one uses this platform to criticize the political situation between Ukraine and Russia. But to participate and be silent, is not permissible.


Screenshot of 'They Live' movie, 1988

Right now it is very important not to be on a wave of emotions; this is very dangerous when there is tension in society, and it is very important to keep a cool head. I try to use art to analyze these situations. In the near future I plan to implement several projects devoted to the crisis in Ukraine."


Marijka Semenenko

A researcher who does independent social, cultural and documentary projects aimed at involving people. She is half Ukranian and half Russian, and lives in Moscow

"A few weeks ago, I was going home in a marshrutka or small bus, and the driver was listening to the radio very loudly so everyone could hear. At first, it was OK, and I did not mind listening to the weird radio music. But, the radio started broadcasting the speech of Yanukovich, the ex-Ukrainian president who is now in Rostov-on-Don. I was forced to listen to it for the whole trip. It was disgusting propaganda and I couldn't escape it, I just had to cover my ears, and people around me thought that I was crazy.

The voice of  propaganda came into a public place through the radio that was switched on by the driver at his own will—but it was dominating over all the passengers. At home, I have a choice and I don't watch TV. Here I didn't have any choice, I had to listen till the very end. I realized that people believe this propaganda especially if there is no variety of news. All actions that are opposite to the general policy of the country, especially offline, won't be popular now because there is no request for them in society. And this propaganda intervened into my private life catching me in public places through media tools.

On March 2, 2014 I went to an illegal anti-war demonstration against putting Russian tanks in the Crimea. A lot of people were detained, my dad also spent there 10 hours. I felt very bad about the way the police treated people who just came with white balloons or small posters. I thought people were afraid of coming on to the streets because they didn't want to have problems with the police, but on the internet people were actively sending links, discussing, and fighting about the situation. So, I decided to turn it into online social activism. People like taking selfies with their iphones and etc. and the point was very simple: make a photo of your own peace (with your the face, or without) to show that you prefer progress than the war and agression.

I posted my photo with a poster "Peace=Progress" on my facebook page, and also sent it to a facebook page called "We are against Russian intervention into Ukraine." The reaction was 326 likes and 209 shares. But the other result was a maximum of 6 photos that were sent to me. I made a blog of the photos, and I asked (even forced) my friends and mum to make photos. None of them supported tanks in the Crimea, but they didn't take photos. When I asked some of them why,  they answered that when they 'like' it they are sure that the task was already done and someone else would do it.

The peacefaceproject aimed at collecting all the faces in Russia who are against the agressive policy of the state. I wanted to give Russians the opportunity to show that they are against the war (because offline ways of expressing your protest are supressed now), but here I was already speaking about the war against people who are not supporting the policy of the Kremlin, like me and my friends. I didn't want to promote the project to get more photos. It was my reaction towards the situation in this country—a way to keep myself calm, to claim my position. At the same time, I thought that the project would suck because there was a small request for it in the society—people, even young people, my age, support the aggression."


Dmitry Vilensky

One of the founders of the Chto Delat art group based in St. Petersburg

In solidarity with the Peace March in Moscow on March 15, 2014, art group Chto Delat announced its decision to withdraw from Manifesta 10. "As we have said before, we are generally against boycotts and especially as far as international cultural projects in Russia are concerned. A cultural blockade will only strengthen the position of reactionary forces at a time when the marginalized anti-war movement in Russia so desperately needs solidarity. But, our aim at least should be to turn every cultural project into a manifestation of dissent against the Russian government’s policy of violence, repressions, and lies. Even if you are staging Shakespeare or exhibiting Matisse, the task of culture today is to find the artistic language to bring home that simple message...We are now beginning work on such a new project: a solidarity exhibition of Ukrainian and Russian artists, poets, intellectuals and cultural figures. At this terrible moment in our society’s history, we are ready to demonstrate our unity and the possibility of taking action against the war together, rising above the flood of hate, lies, manipulation, and direct violence, and not above politics... We do not know how, when, or where this project will take place, but we are sure that working toward its realization, and not self-representation at Manifesta-Hermitage exhibition, is the only responsible way to proceed."



Mykola Ridnyi

An artist and activist living in Kharkiv

"Russian media propaganda (including international channels like RT) argue that the protests in the Crimea before the referendum, and in the East of Ukraine, were civil protests with social demands. The Ukrainian media called protesters in the East 'separatists' and 'terrorists'. It is important to recognize that reality and truth are always far from any propaganda. I cannot call the annexation of Crimea by Russia and conflicts in Donetsk region the 'will of the people'. It is quite obvious that the referendum held in Crimea was under the pistols of Russian military (later this was acknowledged even by Vladimir Putin), and that many armed activists in Slavyansk are just mercenaries. Some peaceful civilians became hostages of this situation, and were left without food and transport. Of course, many people trust propaganda and think that Russia or autonomy can solve their social problems. These people are victims of their own naivety. Contemporary Russian politics are aggressive and unfair not only to Ukraine, but also against Russia's own citizens, suppressing their rights and freedoms.

For me, as an artist, it has become problematic to participate in exhibitions in Russia. I have no desire to take part in official cultural events sponsored by state or municipal budgets. This means to support a visibility of freedom of speech while it does not exist. But it is important to support the people who live in Russia, who also do not agree with the existing order of things. I therefore support self-organization, leftist initiatives and certain people. It is important to understand the difference between a protest against the policy of the state, but not against the people."


Screenshot of 'They Live' movie, 1988


Katya Craftsova

An artist and filmmaker living in Moscow

"In 1984, I moved to Sevastopol, Crimea when I was 9, almost the beginning of perestroika in the USSR. I finished secondary school in 1991 and in August that year I spent nights happily swimming in sea very close to the place where Gorbachev was arrested in his dacha in Foros. Very soon, along with other Russian speaking majority of Crimea I found myself waking up in different state—independent Ukraine. I had more common with Russian culture, so I moved to Moscow permanently in 2003 and after 5 years of the full package of a complex life as a Ukrainian migrant in Moscow, I got Russian citizenship. Since then I've worked as a Russian artist. My family still lives in Crimea, and because of family duty I was there from February-March 2014, and witnessed significant political events. After the March 16th referendum, I woke up in a different state; back to Russia. I was happy to see how it happened, and to be with my friends and family in a place which I consider my homeland.

But, about the process. First, I had never seen so much patriotism in Sevastopol. Most people were happy and many of them couldn't hold back tears when Sevastopol and Crimea were proclaimed as part of Russia.

The media has definitely played a huge role in conflict in Ukraine. As a political tool, media was used to divide the Ukrainian population. This is a main reason why myself and many others don't trust the media and are searching for alternative sources of information to know the 'truth'. It is a similar situation with social media. The real war is happening there, in virtual space, while in reality Sevastopol came to be Russian very peacefully.

Trees were covered with flowers, children were going to school and adults continued their working routine. Although probably it was possible because many local men gathered into groups to control roads around the city and streets in it. These people were not soldiers although keeping in mind that Sevastopol was a military base throughout it's history means it is difficult to find a person there who wasn't involved somehow in the military industry. I suppose these people could get moral support from Russia. I asked them if they received money from the Russian army and they answered: no. Thinking about the growth of patriotism, I believe this might be the truth.

I lived outside of the city and often traveled in Sevastopol by bus. So I saw the blockade posts on the roads develop from several bags of sand into huge, hand-built camps with kitchens and people wearing masks and carrying weapon. There, people installed Russian flags after Putin's speech on March 1st. I heard voices in a bus: there should be Ukrainian flags too.

I tried to take photos, but was told not to do it. I think it would be similar if people demonstrated or protested against Russia, because society generally was very angry against the Правый сектор (Right Sector) in Ukraine with their fascist ideas. I personally didn't see any Russian solder outside of the military bases, but they could be inside by law. I agree that the situation in Crimea was a great military operation without any casualties. My hope was for politics to find a peaceful solution to the whole Ukrainian crisis, but this has been crushed after events in Odessa, Mariupol and the east of Ukraine.

The sad thing about this crisis and mostly media-driven war is how it has divided people. Many former friends are enemies now, even family members are fighting. So a media war created a civil war in a modern way. It was easy to do; making fake news or just shifting accent awaken anger based on great personal qualities like patriotism. Russian media is just more professional than Ukrainian. About the crisis in Ukraine, it is obvious its government has made a lot of mistakes (especially with language issue). We can only guess why they made them; we have so many media explanations that there is a giant field to speculate.

My decision to participate in Manifesta 10 is not based on my political views. We are artists and we must do our jobs. The curatorial project SALE I am collaborating on with Olga Karyakina and Alya Hestanti deals with economy and a kind of education, proposing videos made by multinational artists from all around the world. It was presented twice in Moscow and in the UK in 2013. We were very happy to get an invitation to do it in Saint Petersburg.

Like anyone, I can reach wrong conclusions because of the massive media attack. But I hope time will show us the truth. Even though Crimea de facto becoming a part of Russian territory meets my expectations and desires, we should listen to different points of view and not provoke more anger. In this complicated situation my position is: Do No Harm. I really hope that despite different views I will maintain friendships with all my friends from the US, Europe, Russia, Ukraine and many other places. Maybe I am naive?"