"There are no tyrannies that would not try to limit art, because they can see the power of art. Art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise. It is art that conveys feelings."

 - Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine 

Уяви Україну – Мистецтво як критичне ставлення / Imagine Ukraine – Art as a Critical Attitude

© Davyd Chychkan
Ribbons and Triangles / Стрічки та трикутники, 2020-2022

Davyd Chychkan’s recent series of work Ribbons and Triangles is focused on re-imagining Ukraine and its values. It combines the language of a classic political poster with a meticulous and respectful attitude to the intellectual, artistic and cultural heritage of Ukraine. The poetic folkloric elements, graphic patterns from Ukrainian embroidery, and the elements of traditional costume in his oeuvre, organically co-exist with modernist geometric designs. The artist believes that the blue and yellow are not enough to fully reveal the identity of his country and the very idea of “Ukrainianness”. Along with the recognisable Ukrainian national colours — yellow and blue — the artist has added three more colours charged with symbolic connotation. Thus, black corresponds to the idea of anti-authoritarianism and decentralism; purple represents feminism and cultural progress; red refers to social equality and direct democracy.

Ukrainian Wreath and the Ribbons, 2022

The Ukrainian flower wreath, or vinok (as it is called in Ukraine) is a type of headwear traditionally worn by girls and young unmarried women. An ancient solar symbol, it dates back to pagan East Slavic customs. Through the centuries, the flower wreath remains a part of the Ukrainian national attire that is worn on festive occasions. After the 2014 Maidan revolution, the wreath was reappropriated as a symbol of national pride as part of a wider cultural revival. Each flower in the wreath and colour of the ribbon has its own symbolism. And if in the past a girl wearing a wreath was associated with the rising sun, the modern reimagining of the vinok by Davyd Chychkan can be seen as a symbol of the rising of the future Ukraine. The artist enriches the symbolism of the traditional wreath by choosing the colours of the ribbons that are significant to the history and present of progressive thought in Ukraine.

The trinity of significant Ukrainian political and cultural figures often appears in Chychkan’s work: the political theorist, economist, historian, philosopher and ethnographer Mykhailo Drahomanov (1841 – 1895); the writer and feminist activist Lesya Ukrainka (1871 – 1913); and the writer, social and literary critic, journalist, economist, political activist, philosopher and ethnographer, Ivan Franko (1856 – 1916). In Imaginary Ukraine. Trinity (2020), Chychkan depicts them under four colourful ribbons. Progressive ideas that have been developed over decades of social democratic rule in other European countries, were perverted in Ukraine by Bolshevism and thus perceived often with negative connotations. By depicting national heroes alongside symbolic colours, the artist reminds us of the ongoing relevance of the ideas they stood for.

Lesya Ukrainka and the Ribbons of her Struggle, 2021

The figure of the poet and activist Lesya Ukrainka occupies a special place in Chychkan's pantheon of Ukrainian heroes, as an example of exceptional honesty in thoughts and manifestations, both personal and artistic. Lesya Ukrainka believed that the artist's place is among the common people, and her role is significant in the people’s struggle for liberation and equality. Such a stance coincides with Davyd Chychkan's own position as an artist.

Pattern of the Triangles, 2022

Alongside the colourful ribbons that can be seen in other drawings, Chychkan also introduces the motif of triangles in this work. The latter refers to the modernist works of Heorhiy Narbut (1886-1920), the most significant Ukrainian graphic designer of the twentieth century. He is known for designing the coat of arms of Ukraine, and banknotes of the Ukrainian People's Republic, an independent state that existed between 1917-1921. Narbut created a unique graphic identity that combines traditional and folkloric elements with modernist geometric forms. Several of his graphic works are based on images of the so-called Serpinsky's triangle, a fractal whose important property is self-similarity. Painting the parts of the triangle in black, purple, red, and the national colours blue and yellow, Chychkan once again emphasises the fight for social justice that is integral to the Ukrainian fight for independence. The combinations of triangles in Chychkan's work might be considered as a visual representation of anti-authoritarian socialist ideas — the importance of the correlation between the idea of individual freedom and social equality.

The Holiday of the Union of The Network of Social Revolution Groups and The Coordination of the Initiatives of the Emancipation of Labour, 2022

Alongside triangles, the abbreviations “М.Г.С.Р.” and “К.І.З.Т.” can also be seen on the banners. They stand accordingly for “The Network of Social Revolution Groups” and “Coordination of the Initiatives of the Emancipation of Labour”. These are the titles of the confederations operating in Chychkan’s imaginary Ukraine of the future. Unlike the existing trade unions, those are supposed to be an example of direct democracy and decentralisation.

Maypole, 2022

Another subject of Chychkan’s iconography of imaginary Ukraine is a maypole that symbolises a celebration of May Day. A maypole is a tall wooden pole typically erected on May 1 as the centre of festivities and gatherings which have its roots in ancient spring rites. Such poles are often painted with a spiral stripe or garlanded with colourful ribbons that are woven into complex patterns by the dancers. In 1886, an ancient pagan holiday of May Day was transformed into the International Worker’s Day to honour the memory of the Chicago eight anarchists sentenced to death for fighting for the rights of workers, including an eight-hour workday. Within the framework of the author's imaginary Ukraine, May Day becomes the main holiday, replacing New Year’s Day.

The pole, the ribbons, and the triangles all reappear together in a large drawing titled The Real Ukrainian, triptych (2022). In this work, however, the pole takes the shape of a classical column that may be seen to refer both to international influences and to the Independence Monument, a victory column located on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv, while the wreath with ribbons and the triangles on top of it represent both traditional and contemporary Ukrainianness. On closer inspection, it also becomes clear that one of the clouds in the sky-like background has a silhouette of Ukraine. The interlacing of the colourful ribbons, a recurrent element of the artist’s compositions, embodies Chychkan’s key idea — the interrelation of individual and societal freedoms, the unity of the Ukrainian struggle for independence, and the fight for social justice.

Defenders for real Ukraine and Ukraine of my dream, 2022

In his creation of the imagery of a future Ukraine, Chychkan combines references to the historical past, and the clarity of propaganda images and slogans with the images of present-day Ukraine. Defenders for real Ukraine and Ukraine of my dream is a portrait of two modern heroes. The first is a tactical medicine instructor and combat medic of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, member of the ООС (Joint Forces Operation), left-wing nationalist and feminist Anastasia Vinslavska. The second person is Yevhen Leshan: junior lieutenant in reserve, participant in the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2014, an anti-authoritarian socialist. In this work, they stand under the four ribbons, symbolising Chychkan’s imaginary and alternative Ukraine of the future. Vinskalvka and Leshan themselves represent all the veterans and volunteers of the progressive leaning, who have been fighting for Ukraine. Not only do they defend the country, but also stand for equality and social justice.

This new national iconography proposed by Chychkan not only refers to the Ukrainian struggle for liberation in the past, but also suggests a possible direction for the development of Ukrainian society as an unfulfilled modernist project, based on combining such ideas.