More than 100 artists, brands and companies from Ukraine have set up shop in the Skylight at Essex Crossing on New York City’s Lower East Side for the inaugural I Am U Are Ukrainian Creators Fair (until 26 March). Co-founded by Anna Pagava, the chief executive of the Los Angeles-based public relations agency Gogola, and Kristina Skripka, a hospitality expert, the event aims to show that Ukrainian “culture, technology, art and design have always been progressive and diverse”, the organisers say, while convincing people that the country is “not a problem but a solution”.
The organisers also want to send a message of defiance, claiming that “the war has given even more agility and resilience to Ukrainian creative talent that the world can learn and benefit from”.
Masha Reva and Ivan Grabko, a painter couple based in Kyiv who fled the city following Russia’s invasion, are the fair’s creative directors. They have organised two exhibitions in collaboration with the Ukrainian Museum of New York. Reva planned a show of Ukrainian photographers whose work portrays “a poetic, strong, and collective portrait of young Ukraine”, and Grabko asked several artists to create works in response to the prompt, “How are you?”
“The artists are also asking the viewer the same question,” Grabko tells The Art Newspaper. “It’s a very simple question asked by people when they meet, a conversation opener started by friends or people who don’t know each other. Often it makes no sense but sometimes it means much more than simply being polite.”
But behind the soft themes, the reality for the fair’s participants is quite grim in most cases; after the event, the majority will return to a war-ravaged country with no end to the fighting in sight. “Unfortunately, the war is the most important thing happening in Ukraine right now, but people are continuing to live their lives and do their work as they did before,” Grabko says. “We want to show that the war is something we will win, our defenders are not fighting for war but for victory and life. People need to see that this battle is not in vain.”
Providing opportunities for Ukraine’s creative industries to network and forge ties with US businesspeople is an important aspect of I Am U Are. The fair has partnered with United 24, an official fundraising platform launched by Ukrainian president Oleksandr Zelensky’s administration, and some of the event’s profits will go to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
“To be honest, we all needed a big project to focus on and combine our powers for a good cause,” Reva says. “All aspects of Ukrainian culture are equally important, from the rave scene and museum artefacts to tech startups and craft techniques inherited from our ancestors. This diversity makes Ukrainians who we are.”
- I Am U Are Ukrainian Creators Fair, until 26 March, Skylight at Essex Crossing, New York