War-ravaged Ukrainian mosaics digitally recreated in London show

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A number of 20th-century Ukrainian mosaics that have been destroyed in the ongoing war with Russia will be digitally recreated during a London exhibition this month. Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will project 56 “monumental” mosaics onto the walls of the Old Royal Naval College at this year’s Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (26-29 August).

Among the mosaics that will be brought back to life are the Tree of Life and the Boryviter (Kestrel), both by Alla Horska, a significant figure of the Ukrainian dissident movement of the 1960s. They were created in Mariupol in 1967; both were destroyed by Russian shelling on 22 July, according to a press release. While not every mosaic included in the show has been damaged, all are under threat, the exhibition’s organisers make clear.

“Since 24 February, we have lost hundreds of cultural objects around the whole country. Mosaics are difficult to preserve during the devastating war. A significant part of them will not survive,” Tetyana Filevska, the creative director of the Ukrainian Institute which co-organised the show, says.

This exhibition was first developed in 2019 as a celebration of Ukrainian mosaic tradition, which has a significant—and contested—place in the nation’s culture. Many of these mosaics, which are located in public squares, railway stations and other civic spaces, were created under the USSR and have increasingly been treated with suspicion and dismissed as propaganda by Ukrainians wishing to distance themselves from their Soviet past. Laws passed by Ukraine in 2015 to “decommunise” society included permissions to tear down monumental art such as these mosaics.

Now what started as a way to record a controversial side of Ukraine’s culture has turned into an urgent reminder of the vulnerability of heritage during armed conflicts. “Three years ago, we collected dozens of the most interesting mosaics for an animated projection to take a new look at the monumental art of Ukraine in the 20th century,” Yevgen Nikiforov, the show’s curator, says. “Through the display of these works in London, we will inscribe this layer of Ukrainian culture, still not sufficiently studied, in the history of world art.” The exhbition expands upon Nikiforov’s 2014 Ukrainian Soviet Mosaic project during which he travelled across Ukraine photographing and documenting the disappearing monumental artworks.

The exhibition has been organised by the British Council and the Ukrainian Instititute as part of the UK/Ukraine Season of Culture, which gives a platform to Ukrainian creatives and will run until March 2023.

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