White Canvas #6 Three Female Artists on Working During the War

Cécile Fuchs

Three artists from our community write about the way they experience the war in Ukraine and especially how their art has changed. Three direct reports that are very moving.


Today is the 265th day of the war.

In Ukraine, time is divided into a before and an after. I will never forget the morning of February 24, when at 5 in the morning everyone woke up to the sound of sirens and planes, to the sound of explosions, when the Russian air force simply wiped out residential buildings, neighbourhoods, entire cities from the face of the earth, thousands of civilians died, and then torture, violence and executions began. I will never forget and never forgive. For some reason it wasn’t scary, maybe because the most horrific events weren’t so close, or because I believe that fear does not exist, or maybe simply because there is no time for it and there was only one thing in my thoughts – how can I help. Donations and charity auctions have begun. I stayed in Kyiv, although many people left, for some reason I could not leave everyone and everything, I kept thinking that I am needed here more.

There was enough time to reflect on what was happening. It is as if love is reborn for Ukraine, for the people around, for everyone who is now at the front and for those who help by staying at home, and everything material becomes insignificant and mundane.

All this time I tried to work. When you are distracted, it is not so painful to perceive these events. What we experienced greatly changed my naive inner world. And, of course, the attitude towards creativity has changed. The symbols and meanings that I used to be interested in, now turned out to be insufficiently expressive. They were no longer at tone with emotions and feelings and simply lost their significance. For the first time I was faced with the fact that I simply do not have enough existing images to convey everything that is happening inside me - a feeling of emptiness, like a blank sheet and nothing to fill it with, and closing your eyes you constantly see images of war. I wanted to turn to eternal art, to old masters, to works that seem to live forever. I wrote several works about the war, using the images of angels and saints. Artists can probably live in several realities at once. Work helps a lot to hide from the world for a while and just go back to where I was happy. Escape to memories, back to where there was no war.



After the war began, I had several stages of change in my attitude towards art. From complete apathy to certain transformations of the vision of oneself and one's works. Previously, my drawings were more abstract and expressive, but now I gravitate towards realistic - bodily, even erotic images, because through them I want to pay tribute to life, its value and beauty.

The sculptures, on the contrary, became more scattered with elements of chaos, often without faces or certain parts of the body, although earlier it was in three-dimensional art that I sought maximum realism.

The dimensions have changed because I don't have a permanent location anymore, so the works have to be small so that I can create them at home.

My art has never been political, and it probably never will be, but I feel the desire to show the pain and confusion of people who suddenly lost their homes, jobs, security, and this is if they are lucky, because many, many others have lost their lives - their own or that of their loved ones...



Shortly about my artistic life, before the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine by Russia: After a month-longtrial period, I washired to work in thepolish studio BreakThruProductions to do movie animations in oil colours. I haven’t even managed to work a whole week in the Kyiv branch when the bombing started and the branch was forced to suspend their work. 

At that time, I was also preparing to send my works to a charity auction to collect money for the medical treatment of a child. Instead, my friends and I have collected over 50 works of Ukrainian artists and the income was donated to support the Ukrainians. 

A Russian projectile hit the studio of my friends and colleagues where I was working on a new project, before I found my own space. Many other interesting and important things did not happen, but that is nothing and absolutely unimportant compared to the fact of what thousands of Ukrainians lost. When Russia started bombing Kyiv, I went to live in the village with my family and a dog that I took from the shelter. He is afraid of loud sounds and explosions, this fear triggers epilepsy attacks in him. The dog was the main reason why we moved away from the rockets. Being based in the village, I worked every day as a volunteer in completely different areas, from searching for missing people to psychological support by phone. I was the coordinator with my friend. We found everything we could and quickly. Now I work alone as a coordinator in the artistic field. 

I was forced to leave Ukraine to participate at Nordart, an international exhibition in Büdelsdorf, Germany. It just so happened that at the time I was supposed to go to Germany, our army liberated that region of Ukraine from the Russian invaders, where my friend and I studied best and where I worked most of the time with her. Thus, most of the problems I was working on fell away by themselves.

I delivered 2 of my installations to Germany. Because of the war, we stood in line for 2 days to cross the border. At night, when I was standing next to the truck, I looked into the night sky and saw rockets flying towards Kyiv.

I came to the installation of the exhibition and was accommodated together with my assistant in a guest house on the gallery's premises. The gallery also helped me by financing most of the money for the delivery of works from Ukraine. When I returned to the gallery for the opening, we were left to live in this house until I found a place to move to. When I was in Germany, I was contacted by the SWAN organisation and very quickly found the NotQuit residence (Fengerschforsh, Sweden), where I moved to work on a new art project. This place turned out to be a small picturesque village located among lakes, forest and fields, calm and comfortable to rehabilitate a little from the constant stress. At first, I thought that I would stay in the residence for a month, then I thought that maybe for 2, and then I went to Ukraine and took my mother and the dog with me to Fengerschforsh. The owner of the house came to the meeting and gladly allowed them to live with me, which was a huge moral relief for me. Now I'm not predicting anything.

Thanks to the picturesque nature and friendly people who seem to be constantly trying to either distract me from the terrible reality or support me, I was able to relax a little. Although when you are not in Ukraine, you worry on a different level, every fear and news is more impactful than when you are sitting in Kyiv, as it seemed to me. I have been in this residency for almost half a year, made possible thanks to the help of NotQuit, Artist in Risk, SWAN, VästraGötaland. It seems that without funding from charitable cultural organizations, I would hardly have continued to work as an artist, as they provided me with a studio and funds for materials, among other things.

I was a volunteer every day and until I burned out from fatigue. There was no desire to be an artist at that time. All you live for is horror and helping people. Nothing else makes sense, not even art. The last ten years I have been creating art non-stop and participated in many Ukrainian and international art exhibitions and it became useful to the war. I have many acquaintances and friends, and most of them work for the benefit of Ukraine. Such a wide circle of acquaintances made it possible to very quickly find what was necessary to help people. Since you are an artist, your personality is a bit media-friendly, people trust you faster and are more likely to go to a meeting, send money, things, or confidential information.

Thanks to the fact that I am an artist, I have many acquaintances and a huge movement of mutual assistance has been created, for example, when you write people a request for a necessary medicine and after half an hour you know where to get it because you send requests in all directions, from person to person. Also thanks to this I travel around the countries with my own art and talk about issues that are very important now. I expand the network of mutual assistance and I get moral comfort from the fact that people in different countries support Ukraine and feel the bitterness with us.

I have been working at the residence for almost half a year on a project about war. Am working much more slowly than ever before. The only thing that makes me pick up a brush is the thought that I, as an artist, have to tell about what the Russians are doing, how despicable they are. I have to travel around the world and tell that not only Russian politicians are doing despicable things. I work slowly because almost every piece of shocking news knocks you off track so much that you can't gather your thoughts for days. You can't concentrate, your brain refuses and doesn't work. You can't calculate what you have to do tomorrow. Then you recover a little from it all and begin to exist again. You plan, prescribe, come up with projects, works, you start responding to messages. The mechanisms in your head begin to function normally. If you can call it normal. Most Ukrainians will never be the same again. And then again new deaths and everything repeats itself in a circle.

In fact, creativity is very unproductive with such emotions and in such circumstances. The only thing that was productive for me was volunteering. Even through the prism of shit, your brains work perfectly, logically and your thoughts are coordinated. I think this is due to the fact that you have absolute faith that your actions are beneficial and has a result that may not be immediate but can be seen quickly. It is different with art, it is a more abstract result that can take a very long time to manifest itself.

Before the escalation of the war, I started a project about the duality of tolerance and the fact that there is no need for tolerance in a society without hatred. And now I do not believe in the possibility of complete tolerance in my country. I want to show what Ukraine feels, what I feel and how slippery this tolerance seems now. How difficult it is to remember that somewhere there are Russians who are officially protesting against the war and that they cannot be mixed up with the mass of cruel slaves of the Russian terrorist regime, which has flourished in this country for many generations.

A new project, which will consist of a series of works about the fact that all ordinary things, every day scenes have changed their colour. Every scene of life is ordinary, but you can feeling that there is something happening with the ordnary reality. Everything you do now, you did before, but now you see everything through the prism of war because you can't stop thinking about the war. After all, you can not distract yourself from the horrors that you have seen, read or heard. You always think about it when you wake up and when you fall asleep. 

When I paint, I think about raped, mutilated people, about torture chambers and people who got into them. Every positive news about the liberated territories of Ukraine in the following days reveals new horrors that happened there. You cannot rejoice in the freedom of people, you immediately feel the horror of what these people will tell later. I think of Azov, how Ukrainian soldiers are tortured and then set on fire to cover it up, how they crush women with tanks. About the inscription "children" on the roof of the theatre in Mariupol and that this did not stop the Russian military from dropping a bomb there. About the human shield of Ukrainian musicians that the Russians put in front of them. About how the Chechens were the first to kill dogs when they entered the village. How a grandmother whom we had been looking for in Severodonetsk for a long time refused to be evacuated, and when she was evacuated after a long time, she became crazy. I spoke with the military, with people from many cities, I called a soldier, and he, being at the front line, apologized that he could not help me. About oil, about economic relations with Russia. And about all those people who don’t care about this war or are tired of it. I don't let go of my mobile phone, constantly following the news. I annoy my friends by asking if they are still alive because they are soldiers or missiles are hitting next to them. Now I know if they are still alive because they post on social media, or when they tag my posts on social media.

My project shows that the lives of probably all Ukrainians and mine have changed, which has reduced communication with friends to a minimum. And currently, I communicate mostly exclusively through businesses. In parallel, I analyze the theme of loneliness in my work. You are lonely and detached, but at the same time completely involved in these events. I have to talk about the war, about what Ukrainian culture faced, I have to rethink and reformulate this information. I will not let other people forget, as much as possible, that we have a war going on, whether in communication or in my work. Life in Ukraine is rather like in movies. Especially the stories of the heroism of soldiers and civilians. And much to my regret, it is also similar to films about maniacs, what the Russians are doing to the people in the occupation is an absolute horror. They do it because they can. It's like the performance "Rhythm 0" by Marina Abramovic, you can never comprehend the depth of what a human being can do, what a person can achieve when he is given complete freedom and impunity. In short, something is happening that the mind of a soberminded person refuses to believe. Every day in Ukraine is filled with these stories, enough for a lifetime. 

Now is the time when one person can change a lot, anyone who invests leads his power to our victory. And it must be understood that this is an anthillin where there should be no apolitical people. I want to convey the idea that it is very important to take at least a minimal part in this, if only to express your point of view. We can't stay away by choosing neutrality. If a person makes the choice to turn a blindeye to a human rights violation, that person is choosing not to condemn the violation of rights and thus allowing it all to repeat itself and happen again. Now I am in Sweden, and I am working on finding various opportunities to help Ukraine. I have several charity projects in development.