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Polish pavilion at Venice Biennale highlights human impact of war in Ukraine

18.04.2024 17:30
Officials on Thursday opened the Polish national pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition in Venice, combining the ceremony with the unveiling of a Polish-Ukrainian video installation that offers an insight into the human impact of the war in Ukraine.
The Polish pavilion at the International Art Exhibition in Venice.
The Polish pavilion at the International Art Exhibition in Venice.Photo: PAP/Radek Pietruszka

The installation is the centerpiece of a poignant exhibition inside the Polish Pavilion, entitled Repeat After Me 2, Polish state news agency PAP reported.

Poland's Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz said during the opening ceremony that while "art may not bring peace or prevent war, it does evoke emotions that prevent us from being indifferent."

Reflecting on the proximity of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to Poland, Sienkiewicz added: "This conflict is happening right next to us, and it has shown us what really matters in life — human solidarity and compassion."

He urged the audience to never be indifferent, echoing the exhibition's title, the PAP news agency reported.

'Repeat After Me'

An introduction to the exhibition explains that Repeat After Me 2 "portrays war as a collective experience, independent of age, origin, professional and social status, giving voice to witnesses and highlighting individual endurance of the catastrophe."

The exhibition also features video works from 2022 and 2024, focusing on the lives of Ukrainian refugees.

The films employ a karaoke-style format, though not with music but rather with sounds of warfare — gunshots and explosions — narrated by the refugees.

This auditory experience is part of an interactive element where visitors can "repeat" these sounds, enhancing their understanding of the refugees' traumatic experiences.

Curator Marta Czyż expressed pride in showcasing Ukrainian artists. She highlighted that this event allows the voices of those affected by the war to reach a global audience.

Ukrainian artists in the pavilion thanked Poland for its solidarity, emphasizing the importance of knowing they are not alone in their struggle.

The organizers explained: "The first video was filmed in a camp for internally displaced persons near Lviv. The second work was made outside of Ukraine, in locations that are safe for the participants. However, even beyond the reach of the marathon of alarm sirens, the sounds of war remain a part of their trauma and symbolically expand the boundaries of its reach."

'Go away, war!'

Audiences can listen, among others, to the recollections of Boris, from Mariupol, who says: "I hid my children and the neighbors' children in the basement of a private building. Once, when the bombing stopped, my little daughter ran out into the yard, clenched her tiny fist, and began to shout 'Go away, war! Go away, war!' That was the most terrifying sound I heard during the war."

The Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia) is the world's oldest art and culture exhibition. Run since 1895, it continues to serve as a critical space for dialogue and understanding, exploring art, culture, and social issues on an international stage.

This year, Benin, Ethiopia, Timor-Leste and Tanzania are participating in the Biennale for the first time.

Russia has not been invited since the beginning of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

'Foreigners Everywhere'

Underlining the thematic focus of the Biennale, whose title this year is "Foreigners Everywhere," the event showcases works from over 330 artists from 87 countries, and explores themes of migration and coexistence.

Visitors entering the Biennale are greeted by an evocative decoration on the central pavilion, featuring a massive, colorful illustration depicting the Brazilian indigenous myth of kapewë pukeni, or the alligator bridge connecting Asia and the Americas.

This extraordinary mural, covering 700 square meters, shows and lands connected by a gigantic crocodile and filled with trees, birds and fish. According to the myth, the crocodile allows people to cross from one land to another in exchange for food.

This mural metaphorically introduces the theme of this year's Biennale, centered on "foreigners." It explores the lives of all those who feel alienated and do not fit into traditional patterns — outsiders on the world's margins or indigenous people treated as "foreigners in their own land."

This includes migrants and refugees, with the plight of Ukrainian war refugees being the central theme of the exhibition in the Polish pavilion.

The curator of this year's Biennale is Adriano Pedrosa from Brazil, the artistic director of the São Paulo Art Museum. He is the first person from South America to hold this position in Venice.

The Biennale will continue until November 24, offering a platform for these diverse narratives at various locations throughout Venice, including the Giardini and the Arsenale.

Post-WWII Polish art takes center stage in Venice

During the Biennale, an exhibition entitled Andrzej Wróblewski (1927-1957): In the First Person will open on Friday at St. Mark's Square.

The showcase of works by one of the most important Polish artists of the mid-20th century is hosted in the historic Procuratie Vecchie building and is one of the 30 accompanying events at the Biennale.

Curated by Anna Muszyńska, the exhibition was initiated by the Starak Family Foundation.

This year's Biennale also features significant political references and a historical first: Pope Francis will visit the Vatican's pavilion on the island of Giudecca, marking the first papal visit to the Biennale.

The pavilion, located within a women's prison, aligns with the pope's call to engage with marginalized communities, and features works by renowned artists such as Maurizio Cattelan, who returns after 25 years.

Female prisoners have been involved in the preparation of the pavilion and will take part in its operation.

This year's La Biennale di Venezia opens on Saturday and runs until November 24.

Radio Poland is a media partner of the Polish Pavilion at the 2024 Venice Biennale.


Source: IAR, PAP/PAP

Click on the audio player above to listen to a firsthand report from Venice by Anton Marchynsky from Radio Poland's Ukrainian section.