Indonesian dancers hope to raise awareness for victims of Ukraine war

The ‘Heart Through Art’ charity art exhibition highlighted the plight of women and children affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last February.


Steel Magnolias: Dancers perform the Tari Kusumo traditional dance that epitomizes Javanese notion of grace under pressure. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)

October 26, 2022

JAKARTA – Amateur Ukrainian artists Varvara Hamianin and Vitalii Korzenenko raise awareness about the plight of their country’s women and children after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.

Javanese dancers made their way to the central atrium of the Mitra Hadiprana Mall in the South Jakarta district of Kemang, their serene movements unhurried by any external turmoil. Mitra Hadiprana owner Puri Hadiprana introduced the performance of Tari Kusumo (Flower Dance) as “a dance that symbolizes vulnerability”.

The dance epitomized frailty, belying inner strength and grace under pressure, which contrasted with the following recital of Tari Topeng (Masked Dance). The solo dance is more dynamic, seemingly symbolizing the subject’s determination to fight back and not give in to adversity.

Women and children

The dances and their themes, along with an art bazaar, kicked off Heart Through Art, a charity art exhibition highlighting the plight of women and children affected by the ongoing war in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last February. The event featured art by Ukrainian amateur artists Varvara Hamianin and Vitalii Kornezenko.

Hosted by Varvara’s father, Ukraine’s ambassador to Indonesia, Vasyl Hamianin, and Puri, the exhibition seemed like another high-powered gala of Jakarta’s diplomatic corps. Other notable guests included Australian ambassador Penny Williams and Japanese ambassador Kenji Kanasugi. But Hamianin dispelled this notion.

“Women and children make up 85 percent of over 20 million Ukrainians displaced from their homes or forced to flee overseas as refugees. This makes their plight a transnational and humanitarian issue,” he said at the exhibition’s opening on Oct. 8.

Second deputy chairperson of the Ukrainian parliament, Olena Kondratiuk, agreed. “To date, the war has killed 421 children, as the Russians stepped up their attacks by — among other things — launching more than 3,800 missiles on Ukrainian territory,” she pointed out.

“The war has robbed [millions of Ukrainian] children of their childhood. They will require psychological therapy for the trauma caused by their experiences during the conflict.”

Eye-catching: Amateur Ukrainian artist Varvara Hamianin’s works ‘Howl (Hole) in My Soul’ and ‘Do You Remember How to Cry ‘draw crowds at the Heart Through Art Ukrainian Charity Exhibition. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Evoking visceral emotions

Varvara’s Howl (Hole) In My Soul, and its imagery of a silent scream from Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s 1893 masterpiece The Scream, reflected her pain and that of her compatriots. The title’s wordplay reflected her anguish and helplessness and the toll the war was taking on the Ukrainian people.

“I was under emotional turmoil when I made [Howl (Hole) In My Soul] last March. The feelings included unhappiness, concern and fear for my family and friends,” she said of the acrylic-on-canvas painting.

The work’s intense emotions and grotesque touch are similar to British painter Francis Bacon’s 1953 painting Study after Velazques’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

“Other emotions included a sense of being uprooted, terror, horror, fear and anger as well as loss. The feelings became more tangible after Russian attacks destroyed much of the town outside Kyiv where my grandmother lived.”

Varvara’s work Do You Still Remember How to Cry is just as poignant. The stream of tears into the ocean might symbolize an outpouring of grief in an indifferent world and raising global awareness of what she termed “the humanitarian crisis happening in Ukraine”.

Pride and homesickness: Vitali Kornezenko affirms pride in his Ukrainian roots through his painting ‘Motherland’. (JP/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Connections to the land

On the other hand, Kornezenko portrayed Ukraine’s natural scenery in oil paintings like Motherland. At a glance, the image of a farmhouse lined with cypress trees in the former looked like his idyllic take on homesickness. But a closer look shows the outline of Ukraine’s borders. These include the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Kornezenko made his stance all too clear with his work Crimea is Ukraine. The international community shared his sentiments, as most countries did not recognize Russia’s claim to the territory.

Ambassador Hamianin hoped the thoughts and feelings behind the paintings would impart the same sentiments to the Indonesian public.

“We hope the stories behind [Heart Through Art] can remind the Indonesian people about the similarities behind the Indonesian war of independence [against the Dutch] and Ukraine’s struggles against Russian aggression, though most Indonesians are too young to remember the former conflict. Most of all, we hope to remind them that standing on the sidelines is not enough,” he said.

“[The conflict in Ukraine] is not even about taking sides or supporting the Ukrainian nation. It is about standing for justice, democracy and humanity against war crimes and the sort of aggression committed by Russia.”

The ambassador hoped that the charity event, which is the first to be held in Indonesia on behalf of Ukrainian victims of the war, would give the Indonesian public a clearer idea of the conflict.

“I am sure many people [in Indonesia] will help if they understand how the war is affecting their lives. If they understood its causes better, they would hold protests over fuel price hikes in front of the Russian embassy instead of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo,” Hamianin asserted.

Varvara agreed as she noted that the Ukrainian embassy’s outreach to the Indonesian public started to make a difference.

“I noticed that attitudes [about the conflict in Ukraine] in Indonesia changed significantly since the start of the conflict. I was bullied online by pro-Russian Indonesians who were influenced by Russian propaganda,” she said. “Most of all, I want to highlight that the Ukrainian war brought about a humanitarian crisis, and Russia caused it as the aggressor.”

The stance on common ground is not lost on Puri Hadiprana, who coincided with the momentum from Heart Through Art to mark Indonesia’s National Batik Day.

“[Heart Through Art] shows that the Indonesian tradition of gotong royong [cooperation] is applicable beyond Indonesia’s borders in various forms,” she said. “In this case, it’s art for Ukrainian children affected by the war there.”

Ambassador Hamianin added that he would continue charity events for the Ukrainian people in Bali at the end of October. The paintings in the Heart Through Art exhibition are set to be auctioned with a starting price of Rp 1 million (US$64), with increments of Rp 500,000. The proceeds will go towards charities to aid Ukrainian children affected by the war.

Heart Through Art Exhibition

To Oct. 30

The Studio, 1st Floor

Mitra Hadiprana Boutique Mall

Address: Jl. Kemang Raya No.30, Central Jakarta 12730

Opening hours: 10 am – 9 pm


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