A Photo London, a diversity of views on Ukraine

They are overwhelmed by a very long journey. She, with a scarf on her head, has fallen asleep with a slight uneasiness that makes her clutch the bottom of her coat. He, at his side, seeks sleep, his head resting on his hands. This photo of the Ukrainian Evgeniy Pavlov could illustrate the physical and mental exhaustion of his compatriots who took the road to exile, by train, car or bus, to flee the bombardments of the Russian army. The print exhibited by Alexandra de Viveiros at the Photo London fair, which runs until May 15 at Somerset House, dates from 1985-1988.

In those years, Pavlov also made Alternative, a striking photomontage, in front of which the visitors of the show stop, so much does it seem premonitory. The image, which depicts a woman holding her baby, is cut in half. On the right, Eden and hope. On the left, a field of ruins composed of Kharkiv bas-reliefs. A good part of the buildings from which these sculptures come have been destroyed since February 24.

The mere presence at the fair of these prints, which Pavlov was able to rush out of the country in March, is a miracle. When the war broke out, Alexandra de Viveiros, of Russian origin and presenting herself as a “nomadic gallery owner”, mobilizes. Kharkiv, which saw the birth in the 1970s of a daring school of photography, of which Boris Mikhaïlov is the most famous representative, is a few kilometers from the Russian border. The photographers, with whom she has been working since 2019, have taken refuge, for some, in the basements of the Museum of Contemporary Art converted into a bunker.

Audacity of artists

A few have since managed to leave the country, photo folders under their arms: Pavlov settled in Graz, Austria, Roman Pyatkovka, known for his laughing nudes, settled down in Nuremberg, Germany . Sergiy Solonsky recently arrived in Paris. None are in London, the only country in Europe requiring visas from Ukrainians fleeing the war. In addition to its symbolic weight, this mini-retrospective orchestrated by Alexandra de Viveiros gives the measure of the audacity of these artists, running counter to Soviet iconography. “They were worried by the KGB, which was tailing them”, says the gallery owner. In the Soviet Union, there were many prohibitions. Cannot photograph reservoirs, railroads or roads. Kharkiv photographers also defied censorship by depicting nudity.

Thus these images by Evgeniy Pavlov representing young hippies playing the violin in Adam’s outfit, hung by the Ilex Photo gallery, based in Warsaw. For the curator Anna Maria Drozd, who organized the hanging, dedicating an entire stand to this Kharkiv school, exhibited in 2021 at the Center Pompidou in Paris, was ” An evidence “. “We are Polish, our parents lived under the Soviet screed, we know what Russian hegemony is,” specifies the young photography specialist, considering that it is “time to decolonize the West’s view of Ukrainian art”.

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