Critics’ Picks

View of “Heart of Earth.” Photo: Oleksandr Popenko.

View of “Heart of Earth.” Photo: Oleksandr Popenko.


“Heart of Earth”

Mystetskyi Arsenal
Lavrska street, 10-12
November 25, 2022–January 9, 2023

Imagine an exhibition preview without artificial light, the audience forced to illuminate the artworks with handheld flashlights. For “Heart of Earth”—a group show organized by Natasha Chychasova, Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, Anna Pohribna, and Olga Zhuk—this scenario was no curatorial gesture; it was simply the reality faced by Ukrainian institutions in the wake of Russian missile attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure, which have frequently submerged its major cities in a blackout.

Unlike many war-related exhibitions of late, this show does not try to shock viewers with brutality, danger, and death. It also feels little need to play up the bravery of Ukrainian cultural workers or to impress with the scale of artistic production since the Russian invasion started. Instead, “Heart of Earth” offers a profound thesis on colonialism and the global impacts of war on our shared environment. Foregrounding the link between violence and ecology, artists like Katya Buchatska, Nikita Kadan, Oleksandr Burlaka, and Kateryna Aliinyk warn of irreparable damage to the landscape. In Aliinyk’s paintings, images of ruined tree roots serve as a metaphor for migration, displacement, and loss while suggesting the bones of those who died for their freedom.

Hope is still possible, as evidenced by Kateryna Lysovenko’s painting Propaganda of the World of My Dreams, 2021, which pleads for an end to extraction politics and new types of colonization. By researching the social structures of annual and perennial fauna in Field as a garden, 2022, Alevtina Kakhidze offers a unique vision of a future in which people learn from plants.

None of the works directly depict warfare. It appears only in a documentary from the front lines, projected on a tiny screen beside the curatorial text. Not officially part of the exhibition, the video shows Ukrainian soldiers canvassing fields of wheat to remove any Russian mines.

One doesn’t need proper lighting to see the relationship between war and environmental crises. Solving them, however, requires facing the darkness.