Navel of the World: Ukrainian Traditions and Corporality in Artem Gumilevsky Project
A photographer from Mykolaiv, took a course in art photography at the MYPH school. Finalist of the Nida OFF contest in Lithuania, nominee for the PinchukArtCentre Prize 2022.
— I have a family business, for long I was the chief manager of an agricultural company in Mykolaiv. But I was always inclined to creative activities: wrote poems, played in a musical band. One day in 2019, not far from the recording studio where our rehearsals took place, I saw a room for rent and decided to open a photo studio there. At first I hired a photographer, and then started shooting little by little myself. At some point, people wanted to have their pictures taken by me, and not by a professional portraitist.
At that time, I was interested in purely commercial photography, but I still had a lot of questions – I realized I still did not know much about this field. Some of my friends advised me to take Serhiy Melnichenko’s course. And the more I learned from him about the world of conceptual photography, the less I wanted to return to commerce.
The first attempts are not even worth mentioning now, something serious appeared only in 2020. During the lockdown, we created a project with the photographer Julia Po; we lived in different cities and did not even know each other. We just filmed ourselves at home until a mutual friend noticed the similarity of our pictures. Then we combined them into one series: at first Yulia took a photo, showed it to me, and I took a picture in return.
This project was part of my “Giant” – an exploration of my own corporality and sexuality. The photos from this large series show me naked in each of them, because for me the body is always about sincerity and openness, and I want to be as honest as possible with the audience. The project lasted until February 2022, that is, before a full-scale invasion. I could not continue “Giant”, it seemed to me too carefree to suit such times.
The photos show me naked in each of them, because for me the body is always about sincerity and openness, and I want to be as honest as possible with the audience.
When a hundred meters from my house in Mykolaiv tanks appeared, the missiles were falling, and only pits remained from the neighboring buildings, I decided to take all my relatives out of the city. Since March, we have been living in Odesa region, where I started my recent project. It is called “Roots” – a series about how the tradition and even the very nature of Ukraine invades me. The approach is similar: I also take photos naked everywhere, but the body is no longer the main accent here, it acts merely as a tool.
There are no Ukrainians among my ancestors – there are Poles, Germans, Jews and Russians. But I was born in Ukraine and I live here, so I feel united with these people and their culture. I still don’t know how this series will end, but so far it is very symbolic. For example, the photo “Blood Moon” shows a triangle representing a person, and the circle inside it represents the Universe. So I showed how the Ukrainians perceive the world now.
The most eloquent photo seems to me the one where I am lying in the field, broken into parts, and then sewn together with red threads. I think that’s how a whole nation feels right now trying to rebuild itself. This series is also important to me because my wife appeared in it for the first time. In the photo, we are standing together in front of a fire, as if performing some kind of marriage ceremony, and our heads are covered with a family keepsake – towels that belonged to my wife’s grandmother.
The interest in Ukrainian photography has increased significantly all over the world during these months: in just six months, my works have already been shown at 20 exhibitions. I was able to raise about $10k for volunteer activities at the NFT sales. Western journalists also often ask for a comment, but over time, the news about Ukraine are more and more noticeably wearing people off. While in winter our tragedy was perceived in the West as their own, today they seem to be getting used to the war.