As told to Kathrin Heinrich
"As told to Kathrin HeinrichA Ukrainian artist captures the plight of asylum seekers in marble"
In the ‘Encounters’ sector at Art Basel Hong Kong, Stanislava Pinchuk will erect an ‘anti-monument’ commemorating Australia’s recent history
‘The Wine Dark Sea is really a love letter to Homer and to the Odyssey as the foundational “migrant novel.” The artwork’s central premise is hospitality: how we treat our guests. But it isn’t really about the guests; it’s about what our behavior towards them says about us. In 2016, the Nauru Files – which detailed the brutal, abusive treatment of asylum seekers in Australia’s off-shore detention centers on the Pacific Islands of Manus and Nauru – were leaked by a whistleblower. I was living in Australia at the time and was asked to respond to the files for a group show. That was the genesis of the series: when, for the first time, I sat and read more than 2,000 of the condition reports filed by staff.
‘I kept thinking about these papers and how, due to the fact they were leaked, there was no physical record of this horrific chapter in Australian history: just a photocopy that had been converted into a PDF, reported by The Guardian, presented as a graph. And I was furious about it. I wanted to make these documents irrefutable by carving them in stone and, inspired by the stacked stones of Homer’s tomb in Greece, to turn them into anti-monuments of Australian history.
‘In pairing text fragments of the Nauru Files to their near-identical counterparts in the Odyssey, the accepted narratives of migration are switched up. We value the Odyssey as a pinnacle of global literature, but we refuse to view with compassion the same narrative of migration when it’s happening right in front of us. So, for The Wine Dark Sea, I inverted the protagonists: when you think you are reading about Odysseus, you are reading a cable sent by a detained asylum seeker, whereas the quotes by those whose names have been redacted are, in fact, taken from the Odyssey.
‘Everything came together when I did an apprenticeship with a grave maker during lockdown. A few years ago, I made a pact with myself as an artist to not have a single medium, but to find the right medium for the right idea. Since I never went to art school, I am eager to learn. I was drawn to marble because it is so beautiful, so precious, but also so rooted in history. For The Wine Dark Sea, I wanted to use it with cognizance. There are also no second chances when you’re working in marble – just like when I am tattooing.
‘I pick the stones like a magpie. I like them to be overwhelming, stacking texture on texture, narrative on narrative. I choose marble that looks like waves breaking on rocks, like the sea and the land at the same time. For me, everything comes down to the land. To talk about people is to talk about land and to talk about land is to talk about people.
‘My interest in the way ground forensically holds memory – whether it’s marble or soil – began with Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when my world turned upside down. The land was the witness and held the record of what was happening to us. I began to work with data mapping as a way of understanding, of trying to make sense of the unfathomable, of considering the ways in which land is a silent witness to humanity. Data can hold both poetry and monstrosity: I believe it is the medium of our century.’
Stanislava Pinchuk is represented by Yavuz Gallery. Her work, The Wine Dark Sea, was on view in the Encounters sector at Art Basel Hong Kong, which run from March 22nd to March 25th 2023.
To reach the article on The New York Times about the Encounters sector artist and gallery please click here