Exhibition puts focus on Ukrainian artwork, cultural traditions

February 21, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 12)
Article by Peg West

A new Art Gallery exhibition at the Mary Idema Pew Library showcases Ukrainian artwork and objects, loaned by a faculty member, to draw awareness to the ongoing crisis and highlight Ukrainian cultural traditions.

The pieces come from the personal collection of Alex Nikitin, professor biology, who was born and raised in Ukraine. He arrived in the U.S. in 1992 after the Soviet Union broke up; he served as one of the last soldiers in the Soviet Union military.

In an essay summarizing his thoughts, Nikitin denounced how "Across Russia, museum expositions and archives are full of stolen cultural treasures from Ukraine, which are either portrayed as Russian cultural heritage, or are kept out of sight in a cowardly attempt to hide their Ukrainian provenance."

Nikitin said he wanted to present this collection because, in the months leading up to the invasion, representatives of the Russian government tried to portray Ukraine as a country with no history of its own.

"In fact, Ukrainian cultural and historical heritage is unique and distinct," Nikitin said. "The roots of Ukrainian culture go back thousands of years. A clay figurine composition on the display presents reproductions of archaeological artifacts from Trypillia, an advanced agrarian culture of Ukraine, that formed almost 7,000 years ago."

Nikitin added: "I want to show the West Michigan community a glimpse of the beautiful Ukrainian art by showcasing heirlooms that have been passed down in my family from generation to generation. I also want to bring awareness to the fact that this cultural heritage is being actively destroyed in the course of the military conflict and that it can disappear for good if this war continues for much longer."

Art Gallery representatives ensured the exhibition on the library's fourth floor was in place before the February 24 anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The exhibition will be on display through the winter semester, said Joel Zwart, curator of exhibitions and collections.

“The GVSU Art Gallery believes that visual art-viewing experiences have the power to spark conversations, action, and reflection on core themes of social justice, human rights, and empathy that align with the university’s philosophy of liberal education," Zwart said. "Russian aggression in Ukraine and its attempts to destroy its cultural heritage are wrong. By allowing space for Alexey to share his story and personal collection of Ukrainian artwork and objects, we seek to amplify his voice and stand united with Ukraine.”


Across Campus

This article was last edited on February 20, 2023 at 10:31 a.m.

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