Witness/Testimone: the faces of Ukraine at war on show in Venice

In this dramatic moment for Europe, Venice prepares to host an exhibition of one of the leading contemporary photographers in Ukraine, Oleksandr Chekmenyov, currently covering the war on the ground. The exhibition, which will be inaugurated on 5 May at 6 p.m., will include portraits of Ukrainian people from the 1990s to the current days of the war.

The Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice is promoting, from May 5 to 15, an exhibition at Santa Maria Ausiliatrice (near the Biennale), curated by the art historian Konstantin Akinsha, who is reporting on the devastation of the Ukrainian cultural and artistic heritage in the war for the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and other international media. The event will be accompanied by a series of lectures (in person and online, in Italian and English) on Ukrainian history and culture curated by the department scholars Evgeny Dobrenko, an Odessa-born expert in Soviet, Russian, and Ukrainian culture, and Stefano Petrungaro, historian of Eastern Europe.

Oleksandr Chekmenyov’s works have frequently been published in Time, The Guardian, Vice, Libération, and many other international news outlets. But Chekmenyov is not a traditional photojournalist. His photographs have often been included in exhibitions of contemporary Ukrainian art and purchased by international art museums.

His chosen genre is the portrait. The Ukrainian photographer prefers to produce images, distinct from but akin to each other, of people photographed in the same context (dwellings of the poor, hospitals, war zones). As a result of this, his repetitive catalogs of human types convey the story of a population suffering economic deprivation or the anguish of victims of war. Chekmenyov has created a striking and disturbing collective portrait of contemporary Ukrainian society.

At the moment the photographer is creating a series of portraits of both participants and victims of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, documenting both heroism and suffering of Ukrainian people. The project has been published by the New York Times Magazine.

Ca' Foscari's students are participating in the setting up of the exhibition, which will be included in the Città in Festa programme of events organised by the City of Venice. The exhibition will be hosted in the prestigious venue of S. Maria Ausiliatrice. DH OFFICE, Vincenzo Casali Architetti, and OTT have also contributed to the organisation of the exhibition.