For a few weeks this fall, Manhattan saw a photo exhibit more timely than most. The title revealed the contents: “Material Evidence. Syria. Ukraine.” Tied through the lens of civil war, the gallery mixed large-scale photography with accompanying material and mementos. Drawings and teddy bears, bombed-out vans and shredded signs, all sitting in front of their original photographed setting, from Damascus to Donetsk.
The New York gallery’s closed as of tomorrow, unfortunately, but here are some of the choicer photos I managed to snap from the Ukrainian portion – all self-explanatory, all stark in their own right:
In the midst of the exhibit, I was – like most people, I imagine – so engrossed in the physical exhibit that the intricacies of the layout, and of the accompanying language, went largely unnoticed. I focused on the dinged barrels and deflated soccer balls; I didn’t pay attention to the framing of the text accompanying them.
But maybe I should have.
It turns out the genesis of the gallery – which has already been featured in Russia – is far murkier than originally laid out. Backed by anti-Ukrainian journalistic outfits and participants, the gallery has, in its New York turn, tried to keep information on those supporting it muted.
Fortunately, EuroMaidan Press took the time for a bit of a background look. Firstly, the site discovered that Svetlana Zakharova was involved in the gallery’s promotion:
Also, [someone named] Svetlana Zakharova is a member of the Russian Presidential Council for Culture and Art, which is proof of her close relationship with Putin. Indeed, in an interview, Svetlana admitted that she owes much of her success to Putin. Not only does he personally give her flowers after each show, but also gives her grand awards. An expressive picture, where the Russian president presents the Russian State Prize to the ballerina, has bypassed all the news agencies of the world. And when the Bolshoi Ballet tours abroad, or rather, performs with her participation, they open and close the tour, which is considered a sign of special treatment by the management of the ballet. On March 11 2014, she signed an appeal of the cultural workers of the Russian Federation in support of Vladimir Putin’s policy in Crimea and Ukraine.
A bit later, EuroMaidan Press connected even more dots:
While the curator of the NYC gallery states that the Material Evidence event was “backed by crowdfunding and private fundraising efforts,” RT’s coverage admits that Material Evidence is organized by Zhurnalistskaya Pravda (Journalistic Truth, JT), a Moscow-based newspaper with a heavy anti-Ukrainian slant (a recent article mockingly asks readers how many Kharkiv residents will survive until the spring).
Journalistic Truth is also advertising a number of cash prizes for journalism via the Material Evidence site totaling over $93,000. In other words, they are not on a shoestring ‘crowdsourced’ budget.
The current JT page is devoid of any information on the publication’s founders, but WHOIS info and a cache of the page from January shows it is owned by Fregat Publishing LLC. So, who runs the paper? Its Editor-in-Chief is Vladislav Shurigin, and Deputy Editor is Denis Tukmakov – both of whom work for Russia’s extremist / ultra-nationalist-communist newspaper Zavtra. In the case of Shurigin, he is also a member of the National-Bolshevik party (a Nazi-Communist hybrid), and a member of the notorious Izborsky Club, a group which advocates forming a “Eurasian Empire.”
Fascism, Eurasianism, Bolshevism – some of the key words surrounding certain narrative circles in Russia, and attached to those behind the gallery. And, in hindsight, a narrative does begin to form. As you can see in the photos above, the protesting imagery was a mixture of lawless and bloodlust. The emphasis on fascism carried a far larger presence than it otherwise should have. Placid pro-Russians in Kharkiv. Frothing beasts on Maidan. Middle ground, gone largely without. All in the name of “art.”