Ukraine benefit exhibition blossoms in Los Angeles

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The Los Angeles iteration of a pop-up gallery of contemporary art being sold to benefit Ukrainian relief efforts opened today (16 February) at Century Park after raising over $200,000 during a stint in New York’s East Village last November. The Ukrainian DJ and activist Daria Kolomiec will perform on 24 February at the closing of Sonya: A Sunflower Network Project, which coincides with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

‘Sonya’ is a diminutive for sunflower (sonyashnyk), the Ukrainian national flower, which “reflects the beauty of Ukraine”, says the non-profit’s founder, Dustin Ross, who left a job in commercial real estate and says he was inspired to help others by the words of Mahatma Gandhi. Frustrated by humanitarian aid organisations asking for his money but rejecting his offers of direct help, Ross travelled to Ukraine “with a bag full of medicine and tourniquets to serve how I could”, he says, creating the network after “connecting with amazing Ukrainian volunteer organisations on the ground”.

Sonya: A Sunflower Network Project installation view at Century Park Courtesy the organisers

Ross’s friend Jack Chase, who has a background in photography and videography, accompanied him on his third trip to Ukraine and suggested that rather than making a documentary about Kyiv’s wartime art scene, “why don’t we bring the physical art to the US for people to engage with directly?”

Sonya’s curator, Dylan Siegel, says that Ukrainian contemporary art “has been largely overlooked by the art world” but adds that wartime works “seem to really speak to people”.

Thirty works from 11 contemporary Ukrainian artists were exhibited during the organisation’s three-week show in New York. The Los Angeles show features 40 works by 18 artists and will raise funds for “the purchase and delivery of non-perishable food to people in need”, Siegel says.

Sonya: A Sunflower Network Project installation view at Century Park Courtesy the organisers

The pop-up features drawings by Nikita Kadan, whose work was featured during last year’s Venice Biennale, which he created in an improvised bomb shelter in the basement of Kyiv’s Voloshyn Gallery. Kadan is also a co-creator of an exhibition of contemporary and historical Ukrainian art at the James Art Gallery at the City University of New York (until 18 February).

“For the artists who have been forced to leave their homes and relocate, how could their work not be about the war?” Siegel asks. “It’s easy for us to lose sight, on the other side of the ocean, that the war is happening every day. There is no relief from it. And so, naturally, a lot of the work from the past year has gotten darker.”At the same time, he adds, “There are also works that look towards a better future and celebrate Ukrainian resilience.”

Aleksey Potupin, an artist based in Germany who goes by the name Aljoscha, went to Ukraine after the invasion to deliver his sculptures to schools and nursing homes. “Not only Ukraine, but the whole of mankind, is again experiencing nuclear threats, pointless madness, primitive aggression and violence,” Potupin says. “In such a cruel and dangerous situation, everyone does what is appropriate.”

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