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The 2023 Kyiv Biennial: The Show Must Go On

August 1, 2023
An outline of Ukraine colored with the colors of Ukraine's flag


Though the country has been ravaged by war for over a year and a half, it seems Ukraine’s art establishment has not lost its faith yet. Venice and the Whitney Museum may host more famous biennial art shows, but the Kyiv Biennial might receive much more attention since organizers have agreed to continue as planned and hold it later this year.

Normally, the only other Eastern European country to host a biennial art show is Russia, with one in Moscow and the other all the way on the Pacific coast in Vladivostok. However, neither Russian biennial has been held in some time. The Vladivostok biennial, meant to improve Russian relations with Asian and Pacific countries, ended after its ninth iteration in 2017. On the other hand, the Russian government abruptly canceled the more important Moscow Biennale in November 2022, shortly before it opened at the state-operated Tretyakov Gallery. While the former probably ended due to a lack of funding and interest, the latter was shut down over fears that Russia’s contemporary art scene would be too critical of the government and its current war effort. Therefore, the Kyiv Biennial now stands alone as the only art show of its kind in the region. According to the organizers, the exhibitions and events will be on display in Kyiv, as well as Uzhhorod and Ivano-Frankivsk, two cities in eastern Ukraine. The 2023 Kyiv biennial will also be far more international than in previous years, with events planned in Berlin, Vienna, and Warsaw.

Vasyl Cherepanyn, one of the organizers, stated very clearly that continuing the Kyiv Biennial is meant as an act of defiance against Russia and its efforts at destroying Ukrainian national heritage and culture. “It’s one of the roles of the cultural realm to counter the logic of war, which also attacks everything that is civil by destroying cultural infrastructure”. The 2023 Kyiv Biennial, the fifth edition of its kind, will generally focus on war and displacement, with Russia’s centuries-old political and cultural hegemony over Ukraine being of particular interest. The continued biennial will bring even more information and fresh perspectives on the plight of Ukraine. Furthermore, the involvement of cultural institutions in Central Europe will help bring Ukraine further into the European fold. It may help the country gain acceptance into international organizations like NATO and the European Union.