The Paris-born artist Emeric Lhuisset has recreated a famous 19th-century work of art using a troupe of Ukrainian soldiers. Lhuisset told The Art Newspaper that soldiers of the 112th Territorial Defence Brigade re-enacted the Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (1880-1891) by the Ukrainian-born artist Ilya Repin, which shows Ukrainian Cossacks giving an insulting reply to an ultimatum from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1676.
Lhuisset says that he spent a year on the project, including finding the 40 soldiers and arranging the line-up. “A reproduction [of the work] was given to me during the Maidan revolution [which took place in Ukraine in February 2014] and has sat as a magnet on the door of my fridge since 2014,” Lhuisset says in a statement. In an Instagram post, Lhuisset shows how he put the project together.
“This painting, so important in the Ukrainian national narrative, is in the collection of the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg,” he adds. “Culture is a weapon in a vast battlefield, let’s not try to forget it.”
His version of the image features Roman Hrybov, a Ukrainian border guard, who was serving on Snake Island located in the Black Sea when it came under bombardment on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year. Of that event, he says: “I immediately think of the response of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Ottoman Sultan ordering them to submit, immortalised by Ilya Repin.”
Earlier this year curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York reclassified Ilya Repin as Ukrainian along with two other artists, Ivan Aivazovsky and Arkhyp Kuindzhi (all three were previously labelled as Russians).
In 2020 Lhuisset was the 15th recipient of the British Journal of Photography (BJP) International Photography Award with his combined series Theatre of War and L’Autre Rive. Theatre of War.
The images examine the “theatrical image of conflict, staging real Kurdish guerilla fighters in war settings to blur the boundaries between art and journalism”, says the BJP.
“In the series Lhuisset interrogates the dramatised image of conflict by staging authentic Kurdish guerilla groups against the backdrops of real warzones.”