A New Photography Exhibition at MFA Boston Is Taking Viewers Through the ‘Multiple Realities of War’ in Ukraine

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For far too often in the last 11 months has the sky above Ukraine been scarred by gunfire, shells, and explosions. A new exhibition of Ukrainian war photography at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston takes that same sky as a metaphor—and turns it into a kind of call to action. 

Who Holds Up the Sky?”, as the show is called, was organized by a trio of curators from the Wartime Art Archive at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) NGO in Kyiv, and brought to the U.S. through a collaboration with the MFA. It collects the work of Ukrainian artists who have documented the war since Russia’s invasion in February of last year. 

“Overcoming the darkness of death, shelling, genocide, and blackouts, photography captures the multiple realities of war,” the exhibition’s three MOCA NGO curators—Halyna Hleba, Olga Balashova, and Tetiana Lysun—wrote in the introductory wall text. The show, they explained, was conceived as a tribute to “everyone who is holding up the sky over Ukraine.”

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On view are shots of missiles being launched from Russia, taken by photographer Vadym Belikov from the window of his own high-rise building, as well as a picture of the destruction that similar missiles have wrought on Ukrainian farmland, captured by war correspondent Efrem Lukatsky. 

Those two artists’ works are punctuated by several photos from Yana Kononova’s X-Scapes series, which document the physical destruction in Kyiv’s northern regions—twisted sheet metal, cratered housing structures—but are each cropped to the point of abstraction. Gone are direct indications of war, leaving the emotional devastation of the wreckage heightened.

Pillars in the MFA’s gallery are lined with illustrations from Inga Levi’s ongoing Double Exposure series, which began just days after Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Each entry in the collection depicts two realities: one of everyday life in Ukraine, one of war.  

Efrem Lukatsky, Bird’s eye view of a crater left by a Russian rocket that hit a farm field 10km from the front line. Despite
shelling, local farmers continue harvesting
(2022). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Rounding out the show is a video about the “Behind Blue Eyes” project, a charitable effort that provides Ukrainian kids with disposable cameras. They’re asked to carry around their cameras for a week, photographing their daily routines. The goal, according to the view’s label, is to project a “coherent and complex footprint of the war” from the perspective of those whose lives will forever be shaped by it.

The name of the project comes from the song of the same name by The Who. The curators suggest that the blue of the title is also meant to allude to the sky—a reminder, perhaps, that we’re all united by the firmament above us, even if it looks different.

See more images from “Who Holds Up the Sky?” below.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Kostiantyn Polishchuk, Ukrainian soldiers (2022). © Polishchuk Kostiantyn. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Yana Kononova, X‑Scapes #63‑17 (2022). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Installation view of “Who Holds Up the Sky?” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, January 21 to May 21, 2023. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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