Like a lot of you, I was (and still am) appalled by the atrocities of the war in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the conflict, the first thing I do in the morning is read the headlines of every related update I missed on the CNN app. Watching civilians being killed while they seek shelter or wait in line for bread, or hospitals, schools and maternity wards being bombarded, is downright horrific. I felt so powerless it was unbearable.
My husband suggested that I paint something on the subject. A kind of exorcism. So, I did. Even if it meant diverging from my preferred subjects and style. I decided to paint a large work depicting the astonishing Ukrainian resistance. A variation on the theme of David vs. Goliath. On the right, a Russian soldier peeks from a shell hole and points his gun. He looks partly afraid and partly surprised at what he finds inside a teared down kindergarten. Opposing him amidst the rubble stands a Ukrainian boy, pointing back a colorful toy gun with all his might. A bright rainbow emerges magically from his canon to repel the aggressor.
This last element refers to a recent declaration of patriarch Kirill of Moscow. In an attempt to justify the Russian invasion, he said it was caused by a metaphysical clash between Russia and the West. He accused the West of imposing its liberal values to other countries by forcing them to systematically host gay-pride parades. As if the celebration was extorted in order to join a decadent club. Of course, this is highly laughable coming from a bearded man in a dress. And I perfectly understand he feels troubled by lightly covered parading bodies. But to be threatened to the point of waging a war?
Enough with the nonsense and back to my artwork. In the background of my painting, several objects represent the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to belong to the European community. The symbol of the Euro currency is painted as a large 3D foam letter that lies at the bottom of a ladder. Also, on the wall hangs a large poster of the Neuschwanstein castle nested in the Bavarian Alps. In the scene, Europe is presented as a castle. It embodies safety. And I didn’t choose any castle. Neuschwanstein is the one that inspired Disneyland’s iconic castle. It therefore weaves together the longing for protection along with a fairy-tale fantasy pierced by bullet holes. Finally, I added the circle of stars of the European flag as a kind of halo over the head of the Ukrainian boy, celebrating his defence of democracy.
As I was painting this image, I reflected a lot on the power of art. At first, I thought it had none or very little. What can a painting do against tanks and hypersonic missiles? Nothing. Art is too soft. But it’s because art acts on another level. In our minds. It can be a denunciation or a rallying cry. It can enhance the feeling of belonging to a community and build bridges. It can console the victims. No weapon will ever be able to do these things. So yes, art is powerful. Art is war without the blood.