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An art center in Kiev reopened an exhibition about the Euromaidan Revolution yesterday, following a vicious attack by a group of masked men one week ago.
On the evening of February 7, 15 men wearing black balaclavas and dark clothing stormed into the Visual Culture Research Center (VCRC) in the Ukrainian capital. They beat up a security guard, hammered holes in the walls, stole four artworks and damaged others, threw brochures on the ground, and spray-painted on the walls such slogans and symbols as “Glory to Ukraine” and a trident — part of the country’s coat of arms — shaped like a Celtic cross, which the center’s website identifies as a neo-Nazi symbol. A security camera captured harrowing footage of the vandalism.
The exhibition they were attacking was the artist Davyd Chychkan’s The Lost Opportunity, a reflection on Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan Revolution, in which many far-right groups and militias were heavily involved. The show “poses the questions that have been in the air for more than three years: what was this event and what it could have become?” says the center’s website. “According to the artist, Maidan is a lost opportunity for the Ukrainian society to accomplish a social revolution, which would mean not only to defend dignity, but rather finally gain dignified living conditions.” The exhibition consisted of 10 figurative paintings featuring protesters, men in military uniforms, and Ukrainian monuments, often in surreal configurations and accompanied by text. Only two of the works survived the attack unscathed; three were destroyed entirely. The center estimates the damages to the artwork at $6,000 and damages to the space at $1,500.
Chychkan is an anarchist whose “political activism is inseparable from the artistic practice,” according to a post written in solidarity with the VCRC on Political Critique, a website representing a network of Central and Eastern European liberal activists and institutions. VCRC — which was the main venue for the 2015 Kiev Biennial — notes on its own site that as soon as The Lost Opportunity opened, on February 2, far-right groups began posting threats on social media. The center canceled a guided artist tour scheduled for the following weekend, but a group of thugs showed up at the institution anyway, beating up a passerby, pepper-spraying visitors, and destroying advertising for the show. Despite the violence, the center chose to reopen on February 7 in observance of its regular hours. A man loitering suspiciously earlier in the day prompted VCRC staff to call the police, but no officers were present when the attack took place in the evening. A criminal investigation is now underway.
In the meantime, the center decided to reopen the show in its vandalized state. “The exhibition space, preserved as it is after the pogrom, will serve as a ground for reflection on the situation, in which current artistic expression is now, as well as of our society in general,” the VCRC website says. In an attempt to reclaim the space for free speech and intellectual discussion, the reopening yesterday featured a lecture by Ukrainian lawyer and human rights advocate Ksenia Prokonova, who was scheduled to talk about legal actions that can be taken after the destruction of artworks.
“The savagery of pogrom implies the essence of ‘anti-Maidan’: the social darkness that cannot be allowed to occupy the Ukrainian public space,“ the center wrote in its announcement.