How Do We Decolonise Art? 

The first module of the autumn interdisciplinary programme “Decolonising Art. Beyond the Obvious” was held within La Biennale di Venezia

On September 2–4 2022 Ukrainian Institute in cooperation with the Ukrainian Pavillion organised a series of events titled How Do We Decolonise Art? within the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia “The Milk of Dreams”. It was the first out of four modules of the interdisciplinary programme “Decolonising Art. Beyond the Obvious” that are taking place this autumn in Venice.

The programme involved artists, curators, public intellectuals and academics who focused on a decolonial view on Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a response to the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The idea of this programme was born in March 2022 when the necessity to launch the conversation on decoloniality and art in the new reality of the post-February 24 world became more than timely and evident. The first discussion on the topic “How Russian war against Ukraine changed the [art] world” was held on 22 April. 

Tetyana Filevska, the Creative Director of the Ukrainian Institute, who curates the programme said: “For us, this is a very practical conversation: we need to know what we can do to resist and how to defeat [Russia] on all possible fronts and culture is one of them.” 

The programme included a series of discussions on the issues of decoloniality as a concept, its application to the art world and the role of art in the changing world in general. As explained Madina Tlostanova, the professor of postcolonial feminisms at the Department of Thematic Studies (Gender studies) at Linköping University, Sweden, coloniality should be distinguished from colonialism, as this school of thought emerged in Latin America in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War with the disillusionment of the previous assumptions about decolonisation. Decoloniality is rather a constant process that can never fully happen but serve as a guiding direction for creative pursuits. 

Participants reflected on shifts that are happening now and have been in place since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and started its hybrid war against Ukraine. Kateryna Botanova,  a Ukrainian cultural critic, curator, and writer noted that the rupture which happened to the Ukrainian art scene in 2014 forced it to revise its self-perception: “After Maidan, it was the grassroot collaborative practices of self-care and solidarity, of linking different parts of history and country together”. 

This powerful gesture of decolonising, finding the Ukrainian voice and trusting it inevitably leads to a rethinking of the global world order. Speakers evoked the problem of failing to see modern Russia as the successor of imperial practices of the tsarist and Soviet empires, and thus the misunderstanding of Eastern Europe. The present heated exchange on these matters only proves the attempts to catch up with the oversights of the past.

Misho Antadze, a filmmaker and artistic researcher from Tbilisi, Georgia, commented on this debate: “The wounds run much much deeper. And the wounds are inflicted on our cultures, on our ways of making things. Something like explaining that Russian culture is imperialist will never undo these wounds. But it’s a good start. (…) It’s wrong to think that we demand that Russian culture becomes invisible. Actually, we are asking for the opposite. We want Russian culture to be seen for what it actually is: an imperial culture.

The programme was also attended by Anna Lazar, Curator at the Museum of Art in Łódź, Poland; Maria Isserlis, Curator at Albertinum and Co-founder of A:D: from Dresden, Germany; Alex Halberstadt, Senior Writer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA; Angela Vettese, Associate Professor at Iuav University in Venice, Italy; Jurriaan Cooiman, Director of CULTURESCAPES from Basel, Switzerland; and Vitaliy Chernetsky, a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Kansas, USA.

Vitaliy Chernetsky emphasised: “How important it is to have meetings like this and have this exchange of ideas and also the balance that we had between people who do theoretical work, practicing artists and people who make this straddle over institutional work”.

The programme also included several film screenings from different parts of the world, namely “Peace and Tranquility” by Myro Klochko and Andriy Bondarenko, “Sometimes It Was Beautiful” by Christian Nyampeta and “3 Songs for Saturn” by Misho Antadze.

The recordings of the lectures and discussions of the module “How Do We Decolonise Art?” are available here

The next modules that will continue the initiated discussion are:

  • Art as a Weapon and as a Target” on 8–9 October;
  • Fallen Between the Cracks. Unknown Art Histories” on 28–29 October;
  • Histories Behind the Pavilion. Decoloniality and Biennials” on 18–19 November. 

All events will take place in Venice with live streams from the ground on the Ukrainian Institute’s profiles on Facebook and Youtube

The programme is an integral part of the Ukraine Pavilion exhibition project, supervised by the Commissioner Kateryna Chuyeva, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine and curated by Lizaveta German, Maria Lanko, Borys Filonenko and will be held in collaboration with the Ukrainian Institute, the participating artists and curators of other national pavilions. 

The project will target a wide audience of Biennale Arte 2022 visitors, accredited professionals, and media. 

Hosted by La Biennale di Venezia 

Organised by

Ukrainian Pavilion

Ukrainian institute


International Renaissance Foundation 

Platform for interdisciplinary practice Open Place