In the early days of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, colleagues from cultural institutions elsewhere in Europe began reaching out to contemporary art curator Vasyl Cherepanyn, asking whether he was organizing or conceiving new projects in response to the crisis.
Normally such inquiries would be understandable for Cherepanyn, director of the Kyiv-based Visual Culture Research Center, which promotes work that engages art and political activism. But at the moment, he says, art projects are not a top priority for many living in his besieged homeland.
“They just don’t understand what’s really going on,” he said, during a Yale-hosted online event in early March, of these inquiries from well-meaning colleagues. “I’m still keeping hopeful, but I’m doubtful that we will be able to conceive any artistic projects in the near future at all. This is what the war brings.”
This raw expression of frustration and of a future forestalled in Ukraine has been a theme in a series of online conversations launched by the Yale Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) Program at the Yale MacMillan Center just after the start of the invasion . During the series, called “The Humanity Dialogues,” experts from Yale and other academic institutions have been joined by artists, featured, and scholars who are living in Ukraine, or have emigrated or fled, fors on the crisis through the lens of arts and the humanities.
For the first conversation, Cherepanyn, the Ukrainian curator, was joined by Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History, to discuss tyranny and the agency of artists. For a conversation on cyber resistance, Scott Shapiro, the Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, spoke with Yuliana Shemetovets, a Berarusian activist and spokesperson for the group Cyber Partisans, and a pro-democracy group in Belarus, as well as Ivan, a cyber activist from Ukraine (who withheld his last name for security concerns).
During another event, Olga Kopenkina, a Belarus-born curator and art critic, Yulia Krivich, a Ukranian artist living the United States, and Kuba Szreder, a researcher and independent curator at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, joined Ukrainian curator and anthropologist Asia Tsisar for a discussion about the modes of agency and action that have emerged across artist networks in Central-Eastern Europe as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the most recent discussion, William N. Goetzmann, the Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Management Studies, Daniel Glaser, a former assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes for the US Department of the Treasury, and Simon Johnson, a professor of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management, examined how the international art market can be used by those funding the war effort to evade financial sanctions, and what can be done to close that loophole.
In the immediate aftermath of Russian assaults on nuclear plants in Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl, organizers invited Kate Brown, a professor in the history of science at MIT; Oleksiy Radynski, a Ukrainian filmmaker and writer who co-founded the Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv; and Svitlana Matviyenko, an assistant professor of critical media analysis at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, to discuss the threat.