Last year, Valeriy Kostyuk helped launch an immersive exhibit dedicated to the 19th-century Ukrainian artist Taras Shevchenko. It was meant to be a celebration of three decades of Ukraine’s independence, a cause Shevchenko, a painter and artist, vehemently supported during his lifetime.
For one day only, on March 15, “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine” is slated to touch down in six US cities, including Boston — but now, the exhibit is also calling attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the resulting humanitarian crisis , and the threat to Ukrainian independence.
“We thought, a year ago, when we were doing it in 2021, it was timely,” said Kostyuk, who was born in Ukraine and is an associate producer for Lighthouse Immersive, the presenter of the exhibit. “But now, you look at it, it’s more relevant than ever before.”
Lighthouse Immersive — the Toronto-based company behind the “Frida: Immersive Dream” exhibit — will present “Immersive Shevchenko” at The Castle at Park Plaza, the same space that is hosting the Frida Kahlo show. Tickets, which include admission to “Immersive Frida Kahlo,” range from $30 to $90 (or $25-75 for virtual tickets), with all the proceeds going to the National Bank of Ukraine and the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Kostyuk.
Both of these funds will provide humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, an estimated 2.3 million of whom have fled the country in recent weeks.
“Immersive Shevchenko” will display renderings of more than 200 pieces of artwork, according to the exhibit’s website. The works were scanned from originals at the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv.
Kostyuk originally developed the 20-minute show in Ukraine, with a team based there. He first pursued the show independently of Lighthouse, but said that the company’s “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit inspired him to develop the homage to Shevchenko.
“Ever since, I wanted to create something that could be a modern symbol of my culture, Ukrainian culture.”
Shevchenko was born into serfdom in 1814, in what was then the Russian Empire, and was not released from it until the age of 24, according to the Shevchenko Museum in Toronto. An artist from a young age, he was also a prolific poet, penning a verse that showed solidarity with Ukrainian liberation. As punishment for his beliefs, he was exiled, forbidden from painting or writing, but he continued writing poetry in secret. Though he was released from exile in 1857, he died four years later at the age of 47. He was buried, according to his wishes, in Ukraine.
“His art, be it poetry or visual art, [was] always based on the ideas of the independent Ukrainian nation, and urges for freedom of the Ukrainian people,” said Kostyuk. “He’s a national symbol of resistance, of resilience, of Ukrainian culture as a whole, and it just made sense to have him as this artist that we could base a whole entire exhibit on.”
The exhibit premiered in Odessa last August. In October, he traveled to the city of Kaniv, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit to the immersive show, Kostyuk said.
When the war began, Ross said, Lighthouse decided to “roll this out in as many galleries as we can as quickly as we can” in order to raise funds for aid and promote awareness of Ukrainian culture. Some of the Ukrainian people behind the original exhibit, Kostyuk said, are spending their days helping the war effort and their nights adapting the exhibit for the US galleries.
“War changes daily routines, while still reminding people that art and culture is important,” Kostyuk said, “and it’s something that we have to also advance.”
Among Shevchenko’s paintings that will be on display: “Kateryna,” “Fire in the Steppe,” and a number of his self-portraits. The exhibit will also feature an original score by Ukrainian composer Timur Polyansky.
It’s possible “Immersive Shevchenko” will be extended here. There are plans to add dates in certain cities beyond March 15, Kostyuk said. This will give people more chances to donate and to become more familiar with Ukrainian culture, he added.
“I really hope that for Americans, this is going to be an opportunity to understand why Ukrainians are resisting this aggression by the Russian Federation,” Kostyuk said. “I really hope that this is going to give an opportunity to understand what Ukrainian soul is.”
Dana Gerber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org