Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, British artist Mark Neville moved to Kyiv, a city he traveled to frequently from his home in London since beginning Stop Tanks with Books in 2016. The project, which culminates in a new 180-page volume edited by David Company and published by Nazraeli Press, involved documenting life in the country through portraits of passersby on the street, families lounging at the beach, and others dancing among energetic nightclub crowds.
Each photograph tethers a human face to the entirely inhumane atrocities of war and “(weaponizes) the medium to effect change.” The images are intimate and profound, showing a young girl screaming into a toy phone following shelling in 2016 or a father and son cradling goats in their home in Decyatny.
Neville’s intention for the project has always been twofold. He hoped to inspire broad, international support for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas and Crimea and to offer a necessary corrective to the stereotypical information and images disseminated by the Kremlin, which he saw Western media sources often redistributing without context. “Stop Tanks With Books was my attempt to fight Russian aggression,” Neville says.
Eighty of his portraits are positioned alongside research from the Centre of Eastern European Studies in Berlin about the 2.5 million people who had already been displaced by 2018, in addition to short stories by Ukrainian poet and novelist Lyuba Yakimchuk that detail life under Russian occupation in Donbas.
The pairings lead to a call to action written in both Ukrainian and English, one made more urgent by the full-scale assault on the nation that’s taken thousands of civilian lives alone in the last three months. “I wonder what the international response would be if Stockholm, London, Paris, or New York were threatened with an unprovoked and imminent invasion by Russia? Our book is a prayer and a necessary plea to the international community,” Neville wrote before the war officially began, when he also sent copies of the book to 750 policymakers, ambassadors, media members, and those involved in peace talks. He hoped to raise awareness about the immediate threat the people of Ukraine faced.
There are a few copies of Stop Tanks with Books available from Setanta Books, although a second edition with a new foreword by Neville is in progress. You can find much more of the photographer’s activist-centered work, in addition to more images from the series, on his site. (via Lens Culture)
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Laetitia Ky exercises art activism by braiding African identity into hair sculpture. Born from the lack of representation she experienced growing up on the Ivory Coast, her practice started by cutting the silky straight strands off of her Barbie doll heads and meticulously re-stitching curly extensions as a child. In Love and Justice, Ky’s towering sculptures are embedded into aspects of everyday life. She draws on the strength and durability of Black hair texture to weave traditional instruments, regional wildlife, and bodies in motion into interactive portraits that capture the beauty in common aspects of culture across the continent.
Each image in this 200-page collection published by Princeton Architectural Press makes a statement. Ky explores the roots of this work through the creative shape and design of traditional African hairstyles pre-colonialism. She uses symbols in her sculptures to respond to current struggles like a justice scale balancing gender icons on either side, a uterus with fallopian tubes that transform into middle fingers, or stretch marks on a woman’s body. In her self-love chapter, Ky’s images explore the joys of self-knowledge with acts such as playing a guitar made of hair, toasting a braided wine glass, or wrapping her neck with a life-sized hand that offers the scent of a flower.
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A Short Film Collages Chicago’s Past and Present in a Profound Look at the City’s History of Activism
A palimpsest of history, politics, and art, a short film by Lisbon-based director João Pombeiro is an ode to the Midwest’s largest city and its people. “Chicago” travels across time periods and neighborhoods in a poetic collage of community and culture: cutout photographs of children sit in front of reconstructed streetscapes, animated snippets depict cars from today and decades earlier driving next to each other, and the El runs through the background.
Created as a music video for Lance Skiiiwalker, the layered imagery mirrors the composition, which infuses audio clips from civil rights-era speeches, police sirens, and news broadcasts into Skiiwalker’s otherwise soft, jazzy track. Opening on the South Side and traveling downtown, “Chicago” is a profound, nostalgic consideration of the activism, pride, and compassion that have shaped the city.
Pombeiro frequently works in this style that melds analog and digital, and you can watch more of his films on Vimeo.
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Interview: A Conversation with Social Justice Sewing Academy Explores Community Activism and the Power of Remembering Through Quilts
When witnessing inequity is like digging into an already numb wound and participating in surface-level social justice is as easy as recycling digital shares, the Social Justice Sewing Academy offers the power of touch. The organization works with kids and teens to make quilt blocks that express injustices in their lives, and Colossal contributor Gabrielle Lawrence recently sat down with program director Stephanie Valencia to discuss the project’s mission in a new interview supported by Colossal Members.
They speak about the work of honoring the victims of violence and their families through community art, supporting young entrepreneurs with creative or social justice-oriented businesses, and most importantly, giving people something to hold on to.
So often, when someone loses a loved one, you cherish their items for a while. And then eventually, their items end up in a box, in the back of a closet, or in an attic somewhere. This really does give the family something to hold on to and use every day. Beyond comfort, it’s reflection, as well as memory. Every time they see or touch that quilt, they can remember the good times.
Ultimately, SJSA empowers youth to use their voices and requires tactile processing of issues that often seem bigger than all of us. Every stitch is felt, and it is not a practice that participants must endure alone. From design to completion, each person is required to spend time sitting with these stories in a physical way, which creates room for grief, remembrance, education, and critique.
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Spanish street artist Pejac (previously) addresses the concept of “returning to normal” in a discerning new series that focuses on the urgency of the issues affecting the world today. Centered on the increasingly disastrous effects of the climate crisis and the social issues that dominate the news cycle, the artist speaks to the myriad global crises in his largest exhibition to date, which opens on October 30 in a former train factory in Berlin. Titled APNEA, the solo show features 45 of his newest works in myriad mediums and themes, including chaotic scenes in acrylic, oil, and spray paints, delicate honeycomb on cardboard, and large-scale sculptures and installations that occupy the industrial space.
Pejac created many of the pieces on view since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing concern that also formed the basis for his 2020 trio of interventions paying tribute to health care workers. The new series includes a disquieting depiction of the White House overcome by a violent riot, with canisters releasing billowing smoke and an unaware figure golfing in the foreground, in addition to a cyclone-like drain on a paint palette. Other pieces depict a surreal earthen map of the U.S. with state lines cracked in the dirt and a rendering of Rodin’s “The Thinker” precariously balanced on scaffolding. “During a time of lockdown, painting within the four walls of my studio felt like a liberation and a lifeline. APNEA represents this contradiction,” the artist says.
To coincide with the show’s opening, Pejac is releasing “The Boss” (shown below) as limited-edition prints and postcards available through a lottery system, and proceeds will be donated to Sea-Watch, a German NGO that has helped thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The artist also teamed up with the organization for an installation depicting a child wearing a life jacket atop Neo-Gothic Holy Cross Church in Berlin, a heartwrenching visual that draws attention to the refugee crisis. You can find out more about the release and see additional works on Instagram.
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Falling at the intersection of art and activism, The Plated Project launched in 2019 with a simple idea: “You buy a plate. You fill a plate.” The ongoing initiative sells decorative, artist-designed dinnerware and donates 50 percent of the net profits to organizations combatting hunger. In the last two years alone, the project has involved hundreds of creatives—see the massive, eclectic collection ranging from abstract portraits to whimsical cityscapes on Instagram—totaling 500,000 meals provided to those in need. Every ceramic plate is released in limited-edition quantities, and you can shop the current offerings on the project’s site. For a similar initiative, check out the People’s Pottery Project, which supports prison abolition through a community art practice.
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Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.