You are currently viewing “Holy Blue & Yellow” interview with Maria Kulikovska
Photo: José Figueroa

“Holy Blue & Yellow” interview with Maria Kulikovska

by Veronika Muráriková

Filled with subtle but subversive energy exposing the multiple states of the female body through photographs, sublime watercolour paintings, and knitted face masks, the Ukrainian gallery Garage33.Gallery-Shelter, founded by Maria Kulikovska and Uleg Vinnichenko, stoutly presents the works of fourteen Ukrainian artists. An exhibition that could not be realised without the efforts from co-curator of the show Natasha Nagaewska and Swedish artist and good friend Alexandra Larsson-Jacobson. It is always about collaboration and solidarity at Garage33.Gallery-Shelter. In a different reality my conversation with Maria Kulikovska would probably be a bit more cheerful. But as she pointed out during our talk, life continues regardless, and ”we have to stay very active, we have to talk about it. Even if it is difficult.” 

Coming to Supermarket from a two-week-long performance at Neue National Galerie in Berlin titled ’254′ referring to a refugee number that Kulikovska received in her homeland after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, she opens up about some of the most powerful moments. 

”It was very difficult, but it was very important because this space, the Neue National Galerie, became like an open space, a meeting point not for Ukrainians only but also for many Germans who came to see the performance and discuss what is happening in Ukraine. You know one Ukrainian lady, she was so heavily crying in front of me, and she was talking to me the whole time as I was performing, laying down covered in the Ukrainian flag and doing nothing. It was such a strong image. She told me that it was the second time she cried since the war broke out. The first time she cried was when she safely crossed the borders with her children, and the second time was when she saw me. It really became an important meeting place, and this performance became a symbol. People could go through their emotions there, let them go or talk.”

Even though the near future for Maria Kulikovska and the Garage33-Gallery Shelter is a bit unclear, she continues to seek opportunities and keep working as an artist-in-residence at the museum Francisco Carolinum in Austria. 

Veronika: How are you, Maria? You have had a lot of things on your plate recently. You just came to Stockholm after three weeks of performing in Berlin, you had to flee, and you became a mother to your newborn baby. How are you managing?

Maria: The pregnancy was just horrible. I was, for nine months, from the first day until the last day of the pregnancy at the hospital all the time. In parallel, my partner Uleg was helping me as much as he could, plus he was building our gallery. As I was staying in the hospital, I dreamt that ‘okay, soon I will have a baby, and it will be a nice life. We will create exhibitions, and I will be at my gallery.’ And then my daughter was born, and the first months were though. All of the sudden, she became calm, and everything went smoothly, but the war was already in the air. 

Veronika: And at that time, you were in Ukraine?

Maria: Yeah, yeah, in Kyiv.

When my daughter was five months and twelve days old, which was just recently, the bombing of Kyiv started. The first week we were in the shelter or even more. After that we tried to move closer to the borders. To a safer place- if you can say that. There is actually not a safe place in Ukraine right now. 

Veronika: I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been difficult. 

Maria: That’s why our booth at Supermarket is mostly about women, the body, the destroyed body, the pregnant body. Because I can tell you that the most vulnerable part of a society at war are women, pregnant women, kids, the elderly, and disabled people. 

Already early on, the Russians started to bomb kindergartens, orphanages, and maternity homes in Mariupol and other places. 

Veronika: In that kind of situation, how does one even think about art?

Maria: For now, of course, nothing is in the gallery. It is the second time for me already, I was born in Krym, so when the annexation happened, I fled and never returned home. That is why our gallery is called Gallery Shelter. The idea was that when we build the gallery, it would be like a safe space. For the marginalized, the invisible, people who don’t have a voice and are transparent in society, from conflict areas. But what is a conflict? For instance, Sweden doesn’t have a conflict, but the people who flee here bring the conflict with them. 

Veronika: Where do you currently reside? 

Maria: Right now, I am in an artist residency in Austria. The artistic director of Museum Francisco Carolinum, Alfred Weidinger, drove us from Ukraine to Austria. 

For now, we have only this residency until September, and we don’t know what will happen after that. 

You know it is always a question: how do I get money, how do I pay rent, am I going to get an artistic residency? It is really just taking small steps. Step by step. 

Veronika: But I can say that you are very brave and courageous, all these things are happening in your life, and you are still here, exhibiting at Supermarket in Stockholm.

Maria: Yes, but it is my job! I have to work. I mean, life continues. I don’t see myself as a refugee, even if on paper I am, but it doesn’t mean that I have to stop and do nothing. I am a professional artist, so I have to continue, and it’s also my way of surviving. When I became a refugee for the first time after the Krym annexation, art was really the way how I could survive. Otherwise, I would go crazy. You are preoccupied with work. You have a mission, you are not stuck with only horrible news, and also the money I earn as an entrepreneur and the taxes I pay support my country. Now we also hope to sell some works, and part of the money we earn will then go to the families from Mariupol. To people who lost homes and who don’t have anything. 

So, of course, we have to be very active, and we have to talk about it. Even if it’s difficult. I appreciate any possibility of talking with any press because it will keep people informed about the real situation in Ukraine. 

Veronika: Having said that, what is the thing you would like to talk about, especially now, considering the demanding global situation?

Maria: So many people ask me what I think the role of art is in areas of conflict. Of course, inside the conflict, the art doesn’t have the physical power to stop the bombing or serve as a shelter, but it can support the soul. And I think art can be a platform for healing, discussions, self-expression, and reflection. Art can be really a medium through which we can share with people worldwide and perhaps open up people’s hearts. Hopefully, powerful people can help to protect as well. Because the war continues, and it is getting worse and worse…

But also, I can tell you that from the first day of the bombing, our tag on Google maps was deleted, because people thought it was a real shelter. So now, when we are thinking about the time when Ukraine will win, we will return and build a gallery that will serve as a proper shelter.