None of the nearly ten dozen works of art currently on display at the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery are framed. The (mostly) small paintings, drawings and prints are attached directly to the walls with pushpins, clips or magnets. They furl and curl and the bottom corners lift up with a breeze. They seem particularly fragile. But it is all for good reason.
“Eye of the Beholder (Don’t Close Your Eyes) / Ukrainian Artists Respond to the War” is co-curated by Hanna Melnyczuk, an artist and educator at UMASS Lowell, and Halyna Andrusenko, an artist who resides in Lviv in western Ukraine.
Andrusenko coordinated the logistics of gathering unframed artwork from 25 Ukrainian artists (herself included) and shipping it to Massachusetts, in small flat packages.
The collected artworks are a powerful and palpable response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. War ain’t pretty. The physical, emotional and spiritual agony of battle, occupation, wanton destruction and death is depicted unflinchingly, as it should be. The ugly truth itself is on display.
Many of the works of art are of fallen bodies, bombings, rubble, debris and buildings on fire. There are two small drawings, one stacked over the other, by Lena Kurzel. “#1 From the Series Crazy Faces of War” features a series of interconnected images: a far off explosion, someone with their hands up in horror, a figure running, tumbling, landing, dying.
Below it, there is a sketch of a man on his knees, his hands clasped behind his head as if he had already accepted the inevitability of his own execution.
“East-West, Alone in the Steppe Series, The Anticipation Circle,” a ballpoint drawing by Oleksii Revika, is an almost universal depiction of one of the cliched expectations of modern warfare, not only in Ukraine but in southwest Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and elsewhere: the death-dealing helicopter that hovers over the farmer tending to his crops.
Wholesale slaughter is on display in Anton Logov’s “Bucha,” a digital print rendered in blood red and black with a band of the familiar blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag on the horizon line. The street is littered with thirteen bodies, one unfortunate soul still on his bicycle.
Co-curator Melnyczuk’s charcoal drawing “The Conveyor Belt of Death” features caskets on wheels, a crucifix on each, rolling by mourners like commuters at rush hour.
Olena Shtepura’s “Holding the Walls” is an image of two naked women, each leaning in and attempting to keep the interior of their building from collapsing, as if their bodies were capable of strength that steel and concrete did not contain.
Artist Ksenia Datsuik has kept a visual diary and the entry for August 3rd, 2022 is but her own skinny legs in a bathtub without water. There is a single yellow flower on the bottom of the tub. It resonates with loneliness and despair.
Absence plays heavily into much of the imagery, perhaps none more so than in Ilya Yaravoy’s “One. Roulette.” The beautifully rendered watercolor features a father looking toward his three children and his wife, who have, at least symbolically, been reduced to blank ghostly silhouettes.
There is much to take in at this exhibition and as the end of November approaches one might consider that democracy is always fragile and peace is often fleeting. To think otherwise is folly.
“Eye of the Beholder (Don’t Close Your Eyes) / Ukrainian Artists Respond to the War” is on display at the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery. Bristol Community College, Elsbree Street, Fall River, until Dec. 22.
A companion exhibition, “Don’t Close Your Eyes / Ukrainian Artists Respond to the War,” is on display at the New Art Corridor, 245 Walnut St., Newton, until Nov. 26.