Ptashka – or The Bird of Peace – is the charity art exhibition with the aim to advocate for peace in Ukraine, by sharing thirty-one photographs of pre-war Ukraine in reference to the 31 years of independence in the country, and artworks that symbolise freedom to an audience around the globe. An extensive list of diverse creative talent from Ukraine and around the world has come together to share this vision of peace in a prints sale exhibition in Sheriff Gallery in Paris and through a digital sale on their website – where these artworks are free to download with the aim to spread them and their message across social media, and to share the accompanying donation link for the National Bank of Ukraine's Humanitarian Aid Account.
Powered by the producer Baby Prod, the non-profit creative organisation ERE Foundation, the technological production house Sheriff Projects, and the online gallery and auction space for young contemporary artists Artissue Gallery, the exhibition is an empathetic response to the atrocities of war, not just from a Ukrainian point of view, but globally. The artworks sold at this exhibition are priced at 120€ each, and all proceedings are donated to humanitarian aid in Ukraine to provide food, clothing, medicine, and shelter for refugees, and buy staple goods for the population.
Focusing on five creatives in Ptashka’s long repertoire of talent – Sasha Ivanov, Patrick Bienert, David Mushegain, David Meshki, and Alex Huanfa Cheng – we examine the human condition to persevere through darkness with art, the spirit of the Ukrainian people, and the everlasting hope of peace. The name of the exhibition itself also represents the hope portrayed in these pieces of art, the name ‘Ptashka’ meaning ‘birdie’, and referring to the national animal of Ukraine – the common nightingale.
This bird is depicted in legend to the people of Ukraine as a spring-time visitor to the country after only residing in India, and one spring travelling across to Ukraine to spread happiness into Ukrainian song. Since then, the nightingale has travelled to Ukraine each spring, bringing with it joy and prosperity. The Ptashka exhibition this spring hopes to do the same, bringing joy back to Ukraine after this period of sadness.
Displaying recent events in a satirical and comedic lens, Sasha Ivanov is an ink cartoonist who focuses on political cartoon, in a commentary newspaper column style. Ivanov’s series of drawings displayed in Ptashka, entitled I’m Done, explore the conflicting attitudes of Russian soldiers who do not support Putin’s violent agenda, as well as the comical image of Putin himself (dressed in neo-nazi attire) picking up the telephone to announce, “I’m done invading Ukraine,” accompanied by the subtitle – “This will not happen.” The scrawly black and white art style feels as hectic and dark as the war itself, and the scratchy Russian text accompanying images of soldiers shooting down aircrafts declaring they’re unsure of who’s side they are on defines this sense of confusion and human empathy clashing with patriotism in Russia.
Patrick Bienert – who has five pieces of work shown in the exhibition – is a German fashion and documentary photographer, best known for linking the ideas of culture and identity through his photography. His photos in Ptashka are traces of the land of Ukraine and its inhabitants, with a split-focus on bodies of water such as the Dnipro river and portraiture. The water in Ukraine – especially the Dnipro – has a great significance to the Ukrainian people, due to its ability to connect the country with its surrounding counterparts through historic trade routes, and has been the subject of art and literature for centuries in Ukraine.
Focusing on three of his photographs, Bienert’s romantic gazes on the rivers in Ukraine in Hydropark, Dnipro River, and Bank of Dnipro River convey joy and nostalgia surrounding the Dnipro – reflecting it in glorious light, expressing the infectious bold natures of teens jumping into it from a bridge above, and capturing a more tender moment of two lovers embracing in the foliage by the water. This is a landmark of Ukraine, and these photos seem to express the individual and collective joy it holds to the people.
Moving on to David Mushegain, this fashion photographer likes to document teenagers and their resistance to authority, through their style and attitudes. Displaying three photographs of young women in reacting to war, he uses their sensuality and persevering joy to make a mockery of the notion of war as a whole. By having a young woman straddle a cannon in Odessa Mama, another revel in her gymnastic prowess in Sonya, and the final spread her legs and show her behind to graffiti on the street reading “Kill me Putin” in Julia in Striletsk’ka Street, Mushegain lets these young women express pride in their identities and unapologetically take up space, refusing to be made small.
Next, David Meshki, the Berlin-based Georgian photographer has offered a striking and deliberate photograph to the Ptashka exhibition entitled Prayer, which has been used for many of their promotional posters and announcement headers. Well-known for his previous photo series When The Earth Seems to be Light – and its accompanying documentary – which depicts skating culture in Georgia, Meshki is appraised for well-staged and intentional photography that depicts a place in a romantic lens through the attitudes of its inhabitants. Prayer, taken in Tbilissi, Georgia, a country itself that once existed under Russian rule, shows a figure in blue robes drenched in light, arching up to the sky from a solid yellow floor, in a raw pose of pleading despair. There is an element of hope to this photograph too, that cleverly uses the colours of the Ukrainian flag, as the figure seems to be reaching out in support with his full power, demonstrating how the tragedy felt in Ukraine is felt all around the globe.
Finally, Alex Huanfa Cheng, known to capture portraits of different cultural backgrounds through documentary photography, adds a sentimental and tender photograph to Ptashka called Smile. In it, a child in Kyiv shows off her mountain of toys, dolls, and plushies, holding them close to her body in a towering shape around her face, which shows off her beaming smile. The original joy captured in this photo is tainted by present events, asking the viewer the questions – how many children will sacrifice the simplicity and happiness of their childhood to war? How many will die? And where is this child now? Did she have to leave her home in Kyiv and her dolls behind? The prophetic power of her smile in this photograph is evident, and acts as a haunting reminder of the peace this country lived in only weeks ago.