The culmination of Shevchenko Mania will be open night The Times of Shevchenko, held on 8 – 9 March. Featuring writers, philosophers, artists, and local music groups, there will be all manner of films, music, and poetry on offer. On the eve of this massive event in dedication to one of Ukraine’s most important historical figures, we talk to Nataliia Zabolotna, General Director of Mystetskiy Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum Complex, about her role in this great celebration.
Referred to as the kobzar (bard) of the people, Taras Shevchenko was an equally gifted artist whose paintings, drawings, and etchings are sometimes lost in the real significance and magnitude of his writing. Born into a family of serfs, his artistic talent catapulted him to greatness, and subsequently exile, where he spent 10 long years.
Zabolotna says the event at Mystetskiy Arsenal opens with an exposition of Shevchenko’s artwork, his vade mecum of chapbook poems written while in exile, along with works published throughout his lifetime – all depicted in richly detailed biographical explication. Employing this classic approach, she hopes to bring the viewer a renewed perspective of the “Great Kobzar”, by showing the man behind the work, complete with his discrete vices and virtues.
Lasting more than two weeks and displaying a great number of original works, the exhibition is one Zabolotna herself is impressed with, thanks to the sheer amount and quality of innovative programming, lectures, performances, and discussions. “The event comprises real change in the approach to the study of Shevchenko and his legacy. The variety of methods helps draw attention to the contemporary and of-the-moment legacy of the kobzar, which is a significant accomplishment in its own right.”
Culture And Kopeks
With so much to take in, Zabolotna wants visitors of the project to leave with a greater sense of who Taras Shevchenko really was: “This [project] will help show that Shevchenko’s work is prophetic, reflecting his true and clear insight into human nature, character, and destiny, while having a strong sense of our history. I’d hope that this would foster an even greater interest in his work, and lead to visits to Kyiv’s Shevchenko Museum, his burial monument in Kaniv, and more frequent readings of Kobzar.” Which, incidentally, Zabolotna values as his greatest accomplishment.
While the event is technically sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Mystetskiy Arsenal’s general director says they have yet to see a single kopek from the government. “The Ministry of Culture has assured us that it will cover 25% of the cost of the exhibition, though we have yet to receive this. Instead, the bulk of the project is dependent upon the commitment and hard work of Mystetskiy Arsenal, the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko, the Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature, as well as the support of our sponsors and museum partners.”
The Creation Of A Masterpiece
When asked about her favourite artwork of Shevchenko, Zabolotna is quick to answer: “His 1843 self-portrait. The thing is that in place of the image widely promoted in Soviet propaganda, of a surly, bearded, old man in a sheepskin coat and fur hat, this shows us a young, vigorous European with fire in his eye, ready for any challenge. It reminds me of Karl Stieler’s famous canvas of Beethoven, his expression marked by a youthful confidence and inscrutability, his pose as that of a calm and collected man aware that he is engaged in the creation of a masterpiece.”
Though celebrations around the world will continue throughout the year, the event at Mystetskiy Arsenal comes to a close on 10 March, and does so with a bang. An open night between 9 –10 March promises the premier of Serhiy Proskurnya’s documentary Taras Shevchenko. Identification, a discussion platform, a series of lectures by Shevchenko theorists, historians, literary critics, and poets, poetry readings, an introduction to films on Shevchenko the man, and still more films drawn from his works. And, with contemporary Ukrainian music groups scheduled to perform throughout, it’s a weekend, it’s an exhibition, you don’t want to miss.
21 February – 10 March at 11.00–20.00
Tickets: 40hrv – adults, children under 12, Mondays – free
Mystetskiy Arsenal (Lavska 12)
17 February – 10 March
Shevchenko. Manifestation – interactive multimedia exhibition by Evghen Stepanenko
21 February – 10 March
Unknown Shevchenko – unique exhibition of original works, manuscripts, and publications
My Shevchenko children’s flashmob
9 –10 March
Doba Shevchenko (The Times of Shevchenko): various films, including documentary Taras Shevchenko. Identification by Serhiy Proskurnya, cartoon by Maksim Prasolov, and Taras Shevchenko (1926) by Pyotr Chardynin with musical accompaniment by Gulyaegord, educational programs, poetry readings, design projects and cartoon competition award ceremony, youth discussion platform, exhibition of portraits 200 Faces of the Poet by Theodore Kucera.
Well-known Ukrainian theatre director/producer Serhiy Proskurnya embarked on a project almost a year ago in dedication to the 200th birthday of Taras Shevchenko. Featuring Ukrainians from all walks of life and from all over the world, Shevchenko’s poetry comes to life in Nash Shevchenko (Our Shevchenko).
Beginning the project on 9 March 2013, Proskurnya continues to upload one new clip each day, until 9 March 2014, when the project is complete with 365 days of Shevchenko. He says, “Our project is the effort of various people, of different ages and different backgrounds, to get closer to Taras Shevchenko, to feel the power of his word, to tap into its energy, and, above all, reproduce its relevance. Watch, listen, and write!..This is Our Shevchenko.”
Reciting Meni Odnakoho (I Don't Care) in the very first clip, Proskurnya set the stage for what has been a year of bringing to life the thoughts, hopes and dreams of Shevchenko. Among many a significant participant, such as political scientist Oleksandr Motyl, singers Serhiy Babkin, Oleh Skrypka, and Irina Bilyk, writer Yuriy Adrukhovych, the one whose contribution seems the most poignant considering the current situation is that of Serhiy Nigoyan.
Nigoyan died on the front lines of Hrushevskoho in the midst of the most brutal clashes of EuroMaidan in January. He will be remembered for many things, not least of which – Day 76, where he recites an excerpt from Shevchenko’s Kavkaz (The Caucus). Written on 18 November 1845, its significance is palpable, even today.
The Caucus (excerpt)
And glory be to you,
O azure ice-capped mountains.
And to you, great knights,
Not forgotten by the Lord.
Fight — you’ll win the fight,
God is helping you!
Behind you stands the truth,
Behind you stands the glory,
And sacred liberty as well!
Taras Shevchenko is a great figure not only in Ukrainian but world history. Though he continues to influence the country in various ways even today, according to Ukraine’s National Museum of Taras Shevchenko, there are a few things you might not know about the paintbrush-wielding bard...
1 There are more than 1,384 monuments (together with memorial plaques) in Ukraine and abroad in dedication to Taras Shevchenko. No other person in the world can boast such a number (exceptions being those monuments to rulers of various totalitarian regimes and unknown solders). The region of Ivano-Frankivsk alone has 201 monuments. After Ukraine, Russia comes in at a distant second with 10 monuments and 20 memorial plaques. The first monument to Taras Shevchenko was opened in Fort, Kazakhstan, in 1881, in dedication to the 20th anniversary of the poet’s death. The best monument is thought to be the one in Kharkiv.
2 Shevchenko’s works have been translated into all of the Slavic languages, including but not limited to Georgian, Armenian, Kazakh, Uzbek, German, English, French, Dutch, Modern Greek, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Romanian, Italian, Hungarian, Malaysian, and Bengali.
3 Shevchenko was very interested in fashion while studying at St Petersburg’s Academy of Arts. He writes with great fervour in his diary about shops in St Petersburg stocking Mackintosh raincoats, and later buying one for himself. The raincoat cost 100 karbovantsi – a lot of money at the time. Shevchenko’s personal style was of such interest it is referred to in many memoirs. For example, in her letter to Charles Einar, Varvara Repina talks about a red wool scarf she made personally for Shevchenko. The poet loved the scarf and wore it often. Also, Oleksandr Afanasiev-Chuzhbynskiy writes of a little black hat Shevchenko used to wear, which covered his shaved head after treatment for camp fever. Upon arrival in Nizhyn in the winter of 1846, he was refused entry to a meeting of nobles because he refused to remove the hat. Someone had to explain to the aristocrats that a visit by Taras Shevchenko was an honour no matter his style of dress.
4 An interesting page in Shevchenko’s life surrounds his last love, Likera Polusmak. Shevchenko had dreams of marrying Polusmak. However, many believe she was the reason Shevchenko died prematurely – he knew of his illiterate fiancé’s indiscretions with the teacher he had hired for her. After their break-up, Polusmak married barber Yakovlev, who died of alcoholism shortly after their nuptials. Looking for redemption, Polusmak settled in Kaniv, where Shevchenko is buried. Dressed in black, she visited Shevchenko’s grave daily. In a visitor’s log there, she left a note on 13 May 1905, reading, “Your Likera came, your love, my friend. Look, look at me, I am redeeming myself…”
5 One of Shevchenko’s most favourite dishes was borsch with crucian carp. The poet was an expert in fish dishes and often wrote about bream from Dnipro, dried or fried carp with sour cream, pepper-infused walleye and pike, and Astrakhan dried fish. He also loved varenyky and dumplings. In a letter to Ottoman Yakiv Kukharenko dated 31 January 1843, he writes: “If you tell me about varenyky once again, I will admonish you. That damn dish was in my dreams for about three weeks after you told me about it. All I have to do is close my eyes and I see varenyky.”
by Lana Nicole