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Ukrainian identity of Kazymyr Malevych

Tetyana Filevska, creative director of Ukrainian institute, co-founder and director of the Malevych Institute in Kyiv

Kazymyr Malevych is the key figure in avant-garde art, the founding father of Suprematism and the creator of “Black Square”. He is widely known as a russian artist but in fact he was born in Kyiv in 1879. Malevych has been living and working in Ukraine for many years and identified himself as a Ukrainian. Tetyana Filevska, creative director of Ukrainian institute, co-founder and director of the Malevych Institute in Kyiv held the lecture at Ukraine House in Denmark. She shared the most interesting, least known facts of Kazymyr Malevych's life and his impact on Ukrainian and global culture.

“The conversation about Kazymyr Malevych is the first in a large series of topics that we are going to organize at Ukraine House in Denmark. It is a very important work on the decolonization of the consciousness of the Ukrainian and Danish audience. Russia as an empire regularly rewrote history, destroyed people’s lives and appropriated the names of hundreds of artists. Now it is our duty to investigate and learn the lessons of their experience. Will we be able to build lasting peace and a common future only by relying on a true understanding of history,”

commented Nataliia Popovych, chairperson of Ukraine House in Denmark before the event.

There are some key points from the lecture:

  • Kazymyr Malevych was born in Kyiv in a noble Catholic family of Polish origin and spent his childhood until he turned 18 years old, in the Ukrainian province. He enjoyed the life of Ukrainian peasants very much. In the autobiography he wrote: “Ukrainian peasant women were my first art teachers”.

  • In 1895-1896, he met Mykola Murashko and Mykola Pymonenko, the first professional artists in his life. “I am going to Kyiv to see Pymonenko. I was deeply impressed by his paintings. He showed me his Hopak (Ukrainian traditional dance) painting. I was fascinated with everything I saw in his workshop. Countless easels and depictions of Ukrainian life on every painting,” – Malevych wrote later.

  • The Malevych family moved to Kursk in 1897. Later Kazymyr traveled to Moscow to become one of the most active members of the avant-garde movement. Back to that time professional art education was allowed only in moscow and sankt petersburg. That was the way the russian empire sucked out the talents from all around the country and placed them in the capital for the benefit of the empire.

  • In 1915, he drew the iconic Black Square and founded Suprematist – unprecedented abstract art reflected in simple geometric forms and primary colors.

  • The Black Square faced lots of criticism. In fact it was the triptych – there was also the Black Circle and the Black Cross. Additionally Malevych created a brochure called “From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism '' where he explained what he meant. He got lots of awful reviews. However many people accepted this new art.

  • Kazymyr Malevych visited his family in Ukraine in 1927. He met the artists Andriy Taran and Lev Kramarenko, whom he knew before. The artists convinced Ivan Vrona, the rector (head) of Kyiv Institute of Art, to write to the People’s Commissar of Education, Mykola Skrypnyk, and get permission to offer Malevych a job at the Institute.

  • Between 1928 and 1930, Kazymyr Malevych lectured, arranged workshops of experimental visual arts and advised on teaching methodologies at the Kyiv Institute of Art.

  • On his door at Kyiv Art Institut there was a sign saying “Here I am curing the students from realism”.

  • Ukrainian leading art publications, such as the Kharkiv futurist journal Nova Generatsiya (New Generation) and Kyiv-based Almanakh-Avanhard (Avant-garde Almanach) published a series of his articles.

  • In 1930, Malevych had the last individual exhibition in his lifetime in the Kyiv Fine Arts Gallery. Yet the political climate in Ukraine swiftly changed in 1930.

  • During his interrogation with the United State Political Department (the organization in the Soviet Union before the KGB was founded), he stated his nationality as Ukrainian.

  • In September 1930, Malevych was detained for the second time and spent several months in prison under suspicion of espionage. The jail term caused an illness that later caused cancer that led to the death of the artist in 1935.

  • Kazymyr Malevych prepared the scenario of his own funeral in advance and drew his coffin in the Suprematist style. The testament stated to build a vertical arkhitekton with a telescope, so that everyone could look at Jupiter.

In the end of 2015, new documents about Malevych’s period of life in Soviet Ukraine were published in the book of Tetyana Filevska “Kazymyr Malevych: Kyiv Period 1928-1930”. The unique materials were stored in the family archives of the Marian Kropyvnytsky family for over 80 years.

Talking about her own way to discover Kazymyr Malevych, Tetyana Filevska admitted that 15 years ago she didn’t even know that this great artist was born in Kyiv and had such a big connection with Ukraine. There was no information and Russia has already colonized his heritage.

“It was in 2008, I had already graduated from the philosophy faculty in Kyiv, and I was very much interested in art. I accidentally found out that Malevych was born in Kyiv. And I just couldn't believe it, that I didn't get any of this information in my education at secondary school or in my university education. Moreover my university is the one that's standing next to the street where he was born. So I decided that I need to do much more for others to learn about it,” Tetyana Filevska explained.

Since that she has written a book “Kazymyr Malevych: Kyiv Period 1928-1930”, made a series of lectures about the artist. In 2016, Tetyana organized an international conference “Kazymyr Malevych: the Kyiv Aspect” and published an edited volume with the same title in 2018.

Currently, Ukraine is moving toward founding the Malevych Non-Museum, which will include an exhibition space, Ukrainian avant-garde research center and laboratory of contemporary art.

Photos by Farid Seifulin.


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