Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creates tensions in the art world


Violence is in our society and education at school or in the family can only prevent against it, offer alternative behaviors, convince neophytes that violence always ends up demolishing those who use it the most”.

Fernando Savater, writer and philosopher.

The escalation of tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the entry of Russian troops into Ukrainian territory at the end of last week have started a forced human displacement within Europe such as had not been seen since the Second World War. At least in the first instance, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that about 100,000 Ukrainians have had to flee their homes to neighboring countries such as Romania, Poland, Hungary and Moldova.

The implications of a war are multiple and the world of art is no exception. During recent days, Russian, Ukrainian and other European artists have spoken out against the belligerent measures of the government headed by Vladimir Putin against their neighboring country.

This Saturday, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, one of the most influential living opera singers in the world, wrote through her social networks:

“I am against the war. I am Russian and I love my country, but I have a lot of family and friends in Ukraine and the pain and suffering they are going through right now breaks my heart.”

The soprano has been decorated with two of the most important distinctions in her country, the State Prize of the Russian Federation in 2004 and the People’s Artist of Russia award in performing arts, both distinctions from President Putin himself.

Later in his text, he added in Russian and English: “Forcing artists or any public figure to express their political views and condemn their homeland is unacceptable. It should be a free choice for everyone.”

With the latter, Netrebko defended the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who has been director of the Mariinsky Theater and the Munich Philharmonic since 2015 and who has not hidden his closeness to the Russian president and even publicly supported the invasion of Crimea in 2014. At the close of last week, Gergiev was booed during a concert at Milan’s La Scala theater.

Netrebko’s defense in particular came after La Scala demanded that the director establish his public position for the cessation of tensions, however, the director did not comment on the matter. The mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, added to the pressure this Saturday, who through a public statement declared: “If Valery Gergiev does not adopt a clear position by Monday, he will no longer be able to continue being the chief conductor of our philharmonic” .

artists protest

Another voice from the art world that has spoken out about the war is the Serbian performer Marina Abramovic.

“I was born in Yugoslavia, a country that flourished (from the mix) of Western and Eastern Russian cultures. In recent years I have worked in Ukraine and I have been able to meet its people, their pride, strength and dignity. I reiterate my solidarity with them in these difficult times. Attacking Ukraine is attacking us all, it is attacking humanity and this has to stop,” the artist declared through a video.

For his part, the Ukrainian visual artist Aljoscha, known for his organic installations and for being a promoter of the bioism or biofuturism movement, with solo exhibitions in museums throughout Europe and the United States, undressed in front of the Motherland Statue, in Kiev, Ukraine, holding one of his sculptures and stated:

“I condemn all violence against humanity, animals or plants. Suffering and war must stop. There are no conflicts that have justification and they are all criminal acts (…) all kinds of human ideology is violent per se: for example, that idea that a bloody homeland requires endless human sacrifices”.

The singer, feminist and performer Nadya Tolokonnikov, co-founder of the Russian dissident band Pussy Riot and who was arrested and imprisoned from 2012 to 2013 for demonstrating against the support of the Russian Orthodox Church for the government of Vladimir Putin, launched a campaign fundraising through the blockchain to help different Ukrainian organizations that care for people displaced by the conflict.

“Sanctions against the Kremlin were not enough when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, so (Putin) jailed (Aleksei) Navalny (opposition politician of the Russian government), turned the lives of Pussy Riot and other Russian activists into a hell, forced many of us to flee and leave our home. Now another war started in Europe. When is it going to be enough?” the band wrote on Twitter.

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