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'Ukraine and Ukrainians': The art album preserving a nation's memories

Eyes by Ivan Honchar.
Eyes by Ivan Honchar. Copyright GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum
Copyright GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum
By Amber Louise Bryce
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Presented by GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum, the album features 130 sheets of photographs and sketches by the renowned Ukrainian artist Ivan Honchar.

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It's been over two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, beginning a war that has taken countless lives and devastated an entire country.

Throughout this time, Ukrainians have also been fighting to reconnect with, and protect, their cultural heritage and sense of identity - something a new art album hopes to capture.

Titled 'Ukraine and Ukrainians', it features 130 pages of captivating sketches and photographs by Ukrainian artist, sculptor and ethnographer, Ivan Honchar.

'Ukraine and Ukrainians' captures a country's cultural heritage.
'Ukraine and Ukrainians' captures a country's cultural heritage.GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum

Born in 1911, Honchar harboured a lifelong fascination with Ukrainian folklore, visiting various villages around the country and collecting antiquities that he felt preserved a specific sense of native spirit.

From the 1950s onwards, he began to store all these items in his cottage on Novonavodnytska Street in Kyiv, opening it up as a residential museum that would later become the basis for the Ivan Honchar Museum National Centre of Folk Culture.

"[Honchar's] work throughout his life was preserved, not destroyed, not burned. And it exists now, today, and it's a miracle!" Anna Kuts, designer and art director of the album, said in a statement.

"In my opinion, it is important to raise all archives, all possible materials that will once again remind us who Ukrainians are, how we were formed, and answer the question "How will we be formed in the future?". The latter is rhetorical for each of us," Kuts continued.

Some of Ivan Honchar's photographs.
Some of Ivan Honchar's photographs.GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum

'The encyclopedia of Ukrainian roots'

The album is a collaborative project between the Ivan Honchar Museum and GUNIA Project, the latter of which is a fashion and interior decor brand that's infused with traditional Ukrainian folklore.

It was founded in 2019 by Natalia Kamenska and Maria Gavrilyuk, for whom preserving and promoting national history has always been a core value.

"We understand the importance of publishing such an album at the present moment, as we strive to completely rediscover the Ukrainian code for our future generations and make the Ukrainian voice heard and recognised in the world," Kamenska and Gavrilyuk said in a joint statement.

'Ukraine and Ukrainians' album cover.
'Ukraine and Ukrainians' album cover.GUNIA Project x Honchar Museum

"The album can easily be called an encyclopedia of Ukrainian roots, and both teams have done an incredible job, carefully putting it together, as the true treasure it is," Nadia Pahava, Head of PR at Gogola agency (which is supporting the project), tells Euronews Culture.

"[There's] a rising interest in Ukrainian history and culture. It is increasingly hard to get tickets to theatre premieres, queues start at 6 am" says Pahava, referencing recent sell-out performances of ‘The Witch of Konotop’, a 1833 story by Ukrainian writer Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko. “Ukraine and Ukrainians itself is a quintessence of what stands behind our heritage”.

Immortalising our history on the pages of the album is our way to preserve [them].
GUNIA project team

Covering different regions of the country, with images of objects that date as far back as the 1600s, the album is a true treasure trove of collective cultural memories that speak to the growing curiosity for Ukraine's past - and its evolving identity in the wake of war.

"These visual plots are very different. They contain both our aesthetics and our cultural heritage - material and immaterial, unfortunately, to a large extent lost, they also contain historical lessons of the 20th century. and even encrypted messages from Ivan Makarovych to us today, of which I would name the main one: let's remember!" Maryna Hrymych, scientific curator of the publication says.

More than anything, creative projects like 'Ukraine and Ukrainians' provide a tangibility to the past, and, in turn, feelings of security - something desperately needed in a country that has been unmoored by the looting and destruction of its artistic institutions by Russian soldiers.

The GUNIA project team reiterates, "It is the first out of 18 albums, and we hope to work on many more. At the time of the full-scale invasion, many precious works of art, museums and other pillars of art and culture are destroyed by missiles or looted in occupation, and immortalising our history on the pages of the album is our way to preserve [them]."

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