Will It Bloom This Year?

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
(The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot)

Two churches in the city center of Ypres organise an art exhibition in 2022, an initiative of the non-profit organisation Friends of St. Martin’s Cathedral Ypres. After previous projects in 2014 (Tempus Horribilis) and 2018 (Momentum18),
this is the third edition of this quadrennial. Started as a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Religious Art,
located in the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg, the project was given a very contemporary interpretation through the personal and artistic research of artist and curator Denys Shantar (°1997 in Kherson, Ukraine) to current events in his native country, works from the collection of the Museum of Modern Religious Art and the mission of Ypres as a Peace City. The result: today’s reality is what it is, nevertheless the question contains an expectation and a message of tribute, of recovery, of hospitality and openness, of hope and light. The war in Ukraine, and by extension other conflicts in the world mean that we cannot, must not avert our eyes. From the rich collection of the Museum,
Denys selected works that directly appeal to us. At both exhibition locations,
the new in situ works by Shantar establish a very direct connection between Ukraine and Ypres. 
(Text: Alexander Declercq)

Saints of Kherson
This is a very personal work, as it is based on the journey and evacuation of my grandmother during the early months of the war. We come from the Kherson province, which borders the Black See and the occupied Crimean Peninsula. Kherson was occupied by the Russian army on the first day of the war and at this point completely cut off from Ukraine. We managed to evacuate my grandmother, but this would have been impossible without the help of all the brave citizens. Due to the fact that there is no Ukrainian army in that area and civilians are cut off from Ukrainian supplies, the city of Kherson has to stand on its own to resist the Russian occupation. I decided to honor the brave people who were fighting for their city. I chose four allegories: I. The protesters who went out to show that they are against Russian invasion.
II. The priests and church who started feeding people, as there is food shortage.
III. The volunteers and medics, who worked tireless.
IV. The drivers who evacuated hundreds of people.
The figures are inspired by mosaics of the Soviet Ukraine period, and those refer again to old church frescoes.

Ink, ecolin, marker on silk, 240 x 145 cm, 2022

Apotheosis of war
On site installation inspired by the painting “Apotheosis of war” by the Russian war painter Vasily Vereshchagin
(1842-1904, Turkestan series), which depicts a yellow desert, a bright blue sky with an accumulation of skulls and black ravens in the center. Vereshchagin dedicated the painting “to all great conquerors, past present and to come”. The depiction of a result, or in this case, climax of a gruesome war, reminded me of the sculpture debris of the war past of Ypres in the storage depot of the St Martin’s church.
We do not know whom those skulls belong to, we do not know their names, nor their history, as anonymous as the stone limbs of the statues of saints. Some lost a hand, a foot, a head, their glory, wounded by the war.

Wood pallets and pedestal, war debris from Ypres WWI, 2022

The Guardian Angels
Collaboration with Anna Potsiluyko.
The Vinok is a part of one of the national costumes in Ukraine. Made out of fresh flowers, each has its meaning,
but also the way how it’s woven to the colors of the ribbons, everything would be especially made for the girl who would wear it. The Vinok is a unique headpiece and therefore became quickly a symbol of national identity.
It’s now used during protests, but also during celebrations, and even the motherland sculpture in Kyiv got a huge poppy Vinok for the 8th of May. For the angels in the St. Martin’s cathedral, we decided to do our own interpretation of the Vinok. Giving each angel one plant that we associate with Ukraine,
together they are guarding the bombed and occupied cities.

 Eight lead-clad wooden angels that formed part of the roof of the St Martin’s cathedral,
dried flower, wire and ribbons, 2022

Will it bloom this year? Or the Gospel of Leviathan
This piece is based on the biblical sea monster Leviathan, who will be killed by God during the last days
(Jesaja 27:1, Psalm 74). According to a Jewish prayer,
the monster will be defeated by God and served to the people at a feast.
Thomas Aquinas ranked Leviathan as the demon of envy and due to Hobbes’s book Leviathan, it became a symbol for characters of great power. The monster needs to be killed and make way for a new world without evil.

 Table, tablecloth, bread, empty wooden pedestals and sculpture, 2022
With performance during opening

Blessed are the cultural workers 
This installation is inspired by photos of the courageous museums staff and citizens, who protect and preserve Ukrainians cultural heritage. During war, not only people and animals suffer, but also many cultural objects and landmarks are damaged, destroyed or stolen.
Especially in a war like this, which aims to destroy all that is Ukrainian, it is crucial to protect the works of art in museums and public places, as this also means preserving identity and history.
This installation can offer empathy for the feeling of temporary unavailability of culture and emptiness.

Statues of saints from St Peter’s church, various wrapping materials and tape, 2022

Flags for Veronica and Peter (and other short stories) 
Flags (and other short stories) is an ongoing project, for which I embroider on different textiles. I made these two flags especially for the two sculptures of St. Veronica and St. Peter. I noticed that both statues lacked their original attributes, Veronica the canvas with the face of Jesus and Peter his two keys. The question was, what would these two saints be holding today? In wartime? But also how to make connection between two countries situated on different two ends of Europe? 
I first found a resemblance in the Dutch spelling of the name ‘Ieper’ and the Ukrainian city name ‘Irpin’, a city that also became a battlefield since the first week of this war. So Irpin is going through a similar period of war. Although they sound similar and go through a similar dark period, we really hope Irpin won’t suffer as long as Ieper did in WWI (1914-1918) and II (1940-1945). Hope is something I decided to give to Veronica, after all what else could the Vera Icon of 2022 be? What was Hope a hundred years ago? Again I was inspired by the spelling. [Nadija], Hoop and Hope, we all hope with the same symbol ‘H’.

Wood sculptures, textiles, ribbons, 2022

Photos by Bruno Titeca, Alexander Declercq, Denys Shantar