November 2020

87th Anniversary of the Holodomor Genocide in Ukraine

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Holodomor:

A Remembrance

The virtual exhibition Holodomor: A Remembrance commemorates the 87-year anniversary of the Holodomor Famine-Genocide, which occurred in Ukraine in 1932-33.

 

It is a visual arts presentation featuring the works of Ukrainian-American artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak. 

The month of November is a somber time for Ukrainians around the world as they commemorate the 1932-33 famine-genocide — Holodomor. Murder by starvation is the literal translation from Ukrainian and depicts the horror inflicted by Stalin and his government officials on men, women and children in a deliberate political policy of extermination.

This was not a famine caused by natural factors — food was available. Yet Stalin ordered that all foodstuff and grain be expropriated in order to carry out rapid industrialization and to destroy the will of a nationally conscious Ukrainian peasantry. Millions of Ukrainians died of starvation while millions more were victims of Stalin’s bloody years of purges and repressions.

This year marks the 87th anniversary of this tragedy, occurring at a time when people worldwide are suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with thousands dying and falling ill. Even in the midst of these very difficult times, the horrors of the past cannot be forgotten. To honor the victims of the Holodomor, a virtual slideshow depicting 26 mixed media artworks of Houston-based Ukrainian-American artist Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, replaces an on-site exhibit.

The artworks featured are striking, compelling and filled with an anguish that roots viewers even if one wishes to avert their eyes. This is precisely the artist’s intent — we must look in order to honor the victims and to acknowledge the past so that we can move on. Throughout, titles provide clues to the meanings and symbolism of her work.

The exhibit opens with Death: A Common Sight in Ukraine and captures the situation where villagers were starved by the millions while the Soviet government sold tons of confiscated grain to the West. Passports were not issued, and no one was allowed to leave. Photocopied and collaged into the lower right-hand corner of the artwork is a photo image of a corpse lying unburied in a farming field.

Another Crucifixion depicts a Holodomor child upon an iconographic Christian cross. The child’s image is copied from a historical archival photograph. Throughout, the artist’s use of varied materials adds even more layers of meaning as three concerns remain constant in her artwork: the use of collage or assemblage (three-dimensional pieces), using text and narratives, and images of nature which are usually superimposed over the collage.

When Ms. Bodnar-Balahutrak first visited her ancestral homeland in 1991, she stated that her eyes and soul were opened to a land that was beautiful but ravaged by the Soviet regime. The people were long-suffering yet hopeful — the culture was rich but sabotaged. Years of Soviet oppression had left their mark and were visible everywhere. Mass graves were being uncovered, revealing horrific historical events long denied by the Soviet government. This new knowledge of so many innocent victims did not pull her down into despair but rather created an urgent need to tell their stories — which was also her story. Not only did this travel experience change her world view, it also changed her approach to art making. She states:

“My art of loss and remembrance responds to the genocide waged by the Soviet regime against the Ukrainian nation and reflects my ancestral roots. Millions perished in Stalin’s orchestrated 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. Merging Holodomor victims’ images with icon conceits, I honor them.”