Exhibition “Not an Idol: Taras on the Time”
Graphics from the collection of KhRMA
8 March 2024 - 14 April 2024

Taras Shevchenko turns 210 this year.
Since childhood, he has been a part of every Ukrainian’s life. He is the person who is most associated with Ukraine both at home and abroad. A world record has been officially registered for the number of monuments to the great artist – 1167, of which 1068 are in our country, 99 are in other 44 countries. However, from time to time the question arises: do we know, do we feel, do we realize Shevchenko beyond the imposed clichés?
One of the missions of our museum of contemporary Ukrainian art is to break stereotypes. This exhibition from the museum’s collection is no exception. In the exhibition you will not see the expected portraits of Taras Shevchenko with a formidable look and a striped hat, or the sad exile Kateryna. For years, Shevchenkiana in the visual arts was created mainly in accordance with superficially recognizable markers and was put on an almost production line. Few people cared that Shevchenko lived only 47 years and did not meet his old age, was charismatic and artistic, comprehensively gifted and intellectual, a brilliant artist (especially in the art of graphics), and not only a carrier of the national idea of freedom and a master of words. Like every person, and even more so a brilliant personality, he also had flaws, shortcomings, and addictions.
Our exposition includes graphic works made in classical techniques – etching, lithography, linocut, pastel, gouache and modern computer graphics. The choice of this art form is a symbolic tribute to the extremely talented graphic artist Shevchenko. The easel graphics, sketches and posters dedicated to Shevchenko’s works are not literal illustrations – the poems and verses have become a powerful source for artists’ reflections and creativity at different times – from the 1960s to the present. Sometimes artists use eloquent quotes that resonate with contemporary events, but mostly they use philosophical meanings and powerful timeless messages of the poet’s literary heritage.
The template image of the people’s gloomy revolutionary and sufferer, transmitted with the permission of Soviet censorship into the minds of citizens, has undoubtedly become more voluminous since independence, acquiring the features of an ideologue and fighter for Ukraine’s freedom and independence. Individual attempts to break the stereotype of a monumental idol and reveal a living unique person have become more and more frequent over the past decade. During the Revolution of Dignity, graffiti and posters with a modernized image of Shevchenko were everywhere and were not perceived as mockery of the iconographic image of the Kobzar. Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are desperately fighting on the battlefield under the slogan from the poem “Hamaliia.” “The fire of the fierce does not burn!”, some soldiers have tattoos on their bodies with quotes and portraits of Shevchenko.
The third century of Taras is in the cards. Taras strengthens, inspires, and empowers.
Such an imperfect and such a brilliant Taras is with us.
Olena Mykhailovska, curator, art historian, researcher at KhRMA