Ukraine 1933: A Cookbook
Linocuts by Mykola Bondarenko
The Holodomor (Ukrainian, “death by starvation”) was a genocidal artificial famine in Soviet Ukraine and the Kuban’ region from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. It occurred in the context of efforts by the Stalin regime to fully collectivize agriculture in Ukraine, and as a part of a broader assault on Ukrainian culture, religion, art, and literature in the 1930s with the goal of repressing any remnant of a Ukrainian national liberation movement and the physical destruction of Ukrainian people.
The works in this exhibition are by the Ukrainian artist Mykola Bondarenko (b. 1949). They depict the various plants and animals that people were forced to eat in order to stay alive and the homemade tools that were used to prepare them. The artworks are all based on firsthand accounts that the artist heard from Holodomor survivors in the Sumy region of Ukraine. The images are stark black and white with hints of subtle color applied in watercolor. The subjects are set against a four-part compositional background, recalling a windowpane or the Christian cross. They also include text that identifies the plant or animal and gives the “recipe” for how it was prepared.
Mykola Bondarenko was born in the village of Dmytrivka in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine. He completed his professional studies in 1972 in Kharkiv. After graduating, Bondarenko moved to the village of Uspenky, located approximately 50 miles west of the city of Sumy, where he and his wife still live and keep a small farm. He has been working as an artist and graphic designer, with his primary medium being the linocut. In addition to “Ukraine 1933: A Cookbook”, he has created series of prints entitled “The Epic of Ihor’s Campaign”, “Shevchenkiana”, “My White House”, “The Ruined Temple”, and a portrait series of citizens of the Sumy region. His works have been exhibited in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Slovakia, and the United States, and he has taken part in joint exhibits in Italy, Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Bulgaria and Latvia.
From an early age, he was fascinated by stories of the past told by the elders in his village. He had learned about the Holodomor from his grandparents while still a child, and he wanted to commemorate it through art. His approach arose out of consideration that although entire families and entire villages were annihilated by the famine, some individuals managed to survive. What was it that helped them defy death while their relatives and friends perished? He collected oral histories from Holodomor survivors and drew on them to create the “Ukraine 1933: A Cookbook” series. Instead of shocking viewers with images of the dead and dying, his subtle but still chilling images give a voice to the survivors and provide windows into their lives during the Holodomor.