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17.01.2019

Stories of 11 Mirrors – Jerzy Jura Onuch (Part 1)

Our unparalleled collection of personal stories from our guests keeps growing. 11 Mirrors Design Hotel is happy to welcome Jerzy Onuch, a Polish contemporary artist, renowned expert in cultural and public diplomacy, Counsellor of the Polish Embassy in Ukraine in 2005-2010, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Kyiv in 1997-2005, former Director of the Polish Institute in Kyiv and New York, where he now lives.

 We had a unique opportunity to talk with Mr Onuch as he recently visited Ukraine’s capital.

 11 Mirrors: You are a globetrotter based in New York. What does it feel like coming back to Kyiv? What makes you attached to the city?

 Mr Onuch: My wife's family stems from Galicia. My grandfather served as a tsarist officer, my father was born in Fergana (Uzbekistan). They moved to Poland in 1922. A far as I am concerned, I am a practicing cosmopolitan and constantly travel around the world, however, I always look for a place where I feel at home. Kyiv is such a place. Once I lived in Kyiv for 13 years. Any time I am here, I feel like I return home.

 Normally, I visit Ukraine’s capital two or three times a year for many reasons. The main reason is that I maintain contacts with Ukraine and participate in many projects. For example, I run a column in Ukrainian Week. The other day, I attended an event presenting The Economist, a special issue of this magazine, with one third of contents devoted to Ukraine, including my culture forecast for Ukraine. It was nice to see so many people turning up for this presentation. I also cooperate with Mystetsky (Art) Arsenal, being the only foreign member of its Development Council. Furthermore, I am invited to the BBC-Ukraine 2018 Book of the Year award ceremony.

 In addition, I plan to meet my partner Mark Neville, one of UK’s top photographers. He travels from Istanbul to Kyiv specifically to see me – neither to London, where he lives, nor to New York, where I live, but exactly to Kyiv. Next May, jointly with Mark and Ukrainian photographer Viktor Marushchenko we are going to implement a project in Mystetsky Arsenal with a focus on the internally displaced people.

 11 Mirrors: Do you think Kyiv is changing? If so, how?

 Mr Onuch: Kyiv is obviously and noticeably changing – except for such trivial things like new sidewalks in downtown areas. It is great to see some profile institutions – the Ukrainian Book Institute or Ukrainian Cultural Foundation – appear. They are a kind of official state mediators aiming to promote the country abroad and establish relations with the international community. Above all, all these connections and contacts cease to be anonymous, peripheral.

 Still, whether we like it or not, whatever happens somewhere beyond New York is treated as peripheral. New York is both immensely global and strictly local. The big city stews in its own juice. However, it is equally open to everything. Ukrainians can also find their niche in the US.

 For example – every year in early December, we flock to Art Bazel Miami, an important art fair, where I recently happened to bump into Ukrainian artists such as well-known and prize winning Zhanna Kadyrova. The process has already begun, and little by little, Ukrainian artists, including the younger generation, get integrated into a global context.

 Here is another story to prove that. Last year I was a jury member at the big exhibition that took place in Mystetsky Arsenal with financial support of Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture. 400 young contemporary artists have applied to participate in the competition. They constitute a promising resource that can be used.

 In addition, Ukraine definitely has something to say to the world. The country has a living tradition of the early 20th century avant-garde, which for many years has been associated only with Russian artists. This is changing, too. Today, explanatory notes accompanying Kazimir Malevich’s paintings on display in MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) read that the great artist was born in Ukraine, not in Russia. That is, Ukraine has the right to declare that Ukrainians were also part of this artistic process, and the country has its own cultural roots.

 Ukrainian cinematography also takes a turn for the better. Some time ago, only a couple of films per year were made. We see positive dynamics in this segment also.

 To be continued…