The Innovative Downtrodden: The Importance of Primitivism in Ukrainian Modernist Art

Katrin Zavgorodny-Freedman

Ukrainian modernist painting often gets lumped in with the larger Russian modernist and avant-garde painting of the time. While being acknowledged as unique to the Western modernists, the Eastern European modernist and avant-garde narrative requires more nuance to better appreciate the innovations of nations within the larger category. The unique characteristic of inwardly-focused primitivism of the Ukrainian modernists developed a distinct national style during a time of national revival and independence. The Ukrainian modernists were able to work through the same concerns that western modernism was occupied with but were better equipped at solving them through the long-established artistic practices, motifs, and beliefs of the region. The mere acts of looking for inspiration within their own culture created a watershed moment for Ukrainian history as a whole. By looking inwardly at their own culture, Ukrainian modernists were able to adapt to new ideas in painting and create avant-garde artworks in an unparalleled way, all the while creating a distinct national identity in the face of Russia and the Soviet Union. This paper will examine the techniques and tendencies of “internal” primitivist Ukrainian modernist art as well as the factors of Ukrainization and a national cultural revival which allowed for such growth. The paper will close off with a case study of the Kiev Kultur-Lige as a synthesis and case study of the stylistic, political, and historical ideas presented in the paper… PDF

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