While there is plenty to say about the potential strangeness of translating Shevchenko’s drawings, prints and paintings into room-sized digital projections, this is one of those situations where art lovers in the United States may have little other opportunity to view Shevchenko’s work—at least in the near future. When the Russian invasion began, the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv, which provided the images for this show, hurriedly began storing their collection in the same crates used in 1941 to protect the art from Nazi forces.
Other Ukrainian cultural institutions have also taken steps to safeguard priceless pieces of national heritage. A fire at the Ivankiv Museum in the Kyiv region, home to works by Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko, has prompted fears that the Russian military may target examples of specifically Ukrainian artistic traditions, something Shevchenko helped define.
Born into serfdom in 1814, the artist is considered one of the founders of the modern written Ukrainian language. He was freed in 1838 while a student at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, but arrested and exiled in 1847. One of the charges against him was for using “Little-Russian language” (an archaic description of Ukrainian) to write a satire about the oppression of Ukraine by Russia. Though he returned after a decade in exile and continued to write and create art, he died in 1861 at the age of 47, likely as a result of the conditions he endured.