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Nikita Kadan – The War Is Not New

mumok insider

Three years ago, in 2019, Nikita Kadan was a guest at mumok with his exhibition Project of Ruins, in which he addressed the state-legitimated destruction of Soviet monuments in Ukraine and Russia’s warlike aggression in eastern Ukraine since 2015. The destruction of monuments in Ukraine was a response to the Russian acts of destruction of Ukrainian monuments in annexed Crimea. What at the time was a symbolic war of signs, which quickly developed into a real war in eastern Ukraine, has now sadly become a bloody war of invasion of the whole of Ukraine.

In 2015, immediately after the Russian annexation of Crimea and the occupation of eastern Ukraine by Russian separatists, Kadan went into the war zone to undertake research and to present his position against war and injustice with his works. His work includes comment on social and political developments both by means of art and using other means, and also shaping society in his role as a political activist. As a co-founder and member of the Hudrada collective, and of R.E.P. (Revolutionary Experimental Space), he works in key ways for the establishment of democratic structures in Ukraine. In an accompanying event during his exhibition, mumok invited representatives of this art-political discourse to a debate, wishing to provide information about this conflict zone. Public interest was not particularly great at the time, but this has fundamentally changed due to the terrible new developments we are witnessing today. In 2015, prior to Kadan’s mumok show, Georg Schöllhammer and Hedwig Saxenhuber had already taken an in-depth look at his critical approach to history at the Kyiv Biennale, as well as showing their own familiarity of and commitment to art from Eastern Europe.

Those who have followed the art and activism of people like Nikita Kadan have been able to observe their struggle against the anti-democratic ambitions of Putinism and its expansionist and imperialist nature, which have always represented a threat particularly to democratic forces in Ukraine and also to the whole of Western Europe. Kadan has made this very clear in his current statements in social networks. This war in Ukraine can be seen as a proxy war over Western Europe and its democratic values, with the corresponding conclusions we might draw.

In a work of 2015 entitled Limits of Responsibility, a gift to mumok by the collectors Gertraud and Dieter Bogner, which can be seen at present in mumok’s exhibition from our collection, Kadan refers to the “revolution of dignity” of 2013 and 2014, which led to the removal from office and expulsion of the head of state Viktor Yanukovych. He and his family clan had gotten rich through corruption, seeking close relations to Putin’s Russia, to where he then fled. The achievement of artists and activists like Nikita Kadan is to very precisely observe the history and development of authoritarian and corrupt politics, and to reflect them through art, so that we do not need to be overly surprised about the consequences, such as they now are. To provide a space for this kind of art is one way of supporting the people involved, while also taking seriously the mission of public museums to educate and enlighten. 

Rainer Fuchs