ukraine photo album | photo album, ballpoint pen, images from my grandfather’s archive, images from the U.S. news sources, glue, matte medium, 4 x 6 index cards | 9″ x 8 1/2″ x 1 3/4″ | 21 pages | May 2014

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This is a study on representation and the issue of who is given agency in Western, particularly United States, media. The images travel through Ukraine’s past relations with Russia, along with their present relationship, to trouble the ways in which most of the people who actually live in Ukraine, peasant famers and villagers, have been oppressed, exploited, and never given enough agency. The people of Ukraine have been in a persistent struggle with Russia’s domination and influence for hundreds of years, but whose freedom are urban communities actually fighting for?

 

I was inspired by a text I encountered that was written by my Ukrainian grandfather, Vasyl Luchkiw, who escaped his depleted farmland, miles outside of the western Ukrainian city Ivano-Frankivsk, at the height of World War II and Stalin’s regime. He wrote the essay for Ukraine’s tenth anniversary of independence in 2001, and it accurately foreshadows recent events between Ukraine and Russia. However, only now that Ukraine is in “crisis,” the people of the nation getting some type of agency, when there has been political tension between Ukraine and Russia for nearly 100 years.

 

“Other” cultures, particularly in the U.S., require explanation to those who do not understand—usually because these histories are not “common knowledge” taught in elementary or high school, and if taught, the information is skewed to particular agendas. My commentary throughout the piece takes the viewer through events of war, oppression, and social unrest in Ukraine up until the present. Throughout, images of past events, taken from my grandfather’s vast archive of Ukrainian materials, are juxtaposed with images of the “Ukraine Crisis” of 2013-2014. Those who are given this agency in the news are the people who have the ability to voice themselves, however those who demand a voice are not necessarily the people whose basic rights deserve urgency, and are thus rendered invisible. By implementing my grandfather’s vast personal archive to meld past images into the present, with photographs from U.S. media, these images are meant to visually educate about the perpetual hostility between Ukraine and Russia, Russia’s dominance over the former, the Ukrainian people’s persistent quest for “freedom,” the problematic of voices represented in this quest, and the ways in which this is not publicized by the Western world—as if Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine is something new and unusual—while the persecution and mistreatment of peasant farmers transcends all histories.

 

 

In context of the events that occurred, and are still occurring, in Ukraine from 2013-2014—deemed a “crisis”—it is important to understand the history of the Ukrainian people and their relationship with Russia. Western media has the tendency to portray climactic situations in “other” nations or cultures almost as if these events have suddenly emerged with no provocation or background, and the leaders of Western nations have the tendency to only greatly acknowledge these countries when they are in such crises. The people protesting for freedoms in cities are the ones with influence, but are they striving for their own freedoms, or freedoms for all classes?