WORLD – ART
Viktoria Protsyuk draws sex. She donates part of her profits to the Ukrainian army. Her pictures hang in shelters at the front. A DW correspondent was able to see them at an exhibition in Berlin.
In 2022, Berlin has become a haven for almost a hundred thousand Ukrainians, many of whom work professionally in the arts, including musicians, actors and artists. Creative people from Kiev, Odessa and other Ukrainian cities have filled Berlin and become an integral part of it.
If you were to compile a calendar of cultural events in Berlin that are in some way related to Ukraine, it would cover every day of the week – without interruption. But the Ukrainian cultural boom in Berlin is not isolated from the war. Art helps people overcome trauma, raises money for the country and introduces Germans to Ukrainian culture.
The Berlin press has named Viktoria Protsyuk, a fragile young woman who arrived from Kiev in March, as the most provocative Ukrainian artist (and there are several contenders for that title). She paints in watercolours and oils, which are blocked on Instagram. Her small-format erotic paintings won’t surprise you with their subject matter.
It’s usually two or more mostly naked people of different genders and colours having sex – if you take that term as broadly as possible. The bodies (or parts of bodies) are depicted as naturalistically as possible and their interaction is clearly shown – not to be confused with anything else. This is sex, with great pleasure for all involved.
"I only paint what I have lived"
On 16 December 2022, Victoria’s exhibition opened in Berlin’s Repeat Bar (holding exhibitions in basement bars with their winding corridors rather than in galleries has long been a Berlin thing). “I started painting erotica in Kiev, but it wasn’t so easy with exhibitions there,” she says, standing a stone’s throw from the DJ (what Berlin exhibition is without one). – People there were not quite ready for explicit scenes. Here it’s the opposite. They say, please do something even more promiscuous for us.
A DW correspondent has already seen the exhibition and understands that “even more promiscuous” is not easy to do: compositionally, Victoria’s paintings resemble screenshots from porn. But that’s not all. Sex can be depicted in many different ways, and the artist chooses such a caustic and exciting combination of colours and shapes that you involuntarily get nervous looking at them. This is deliberate: Victoria removes the distance between the viewer and the image, placing the viewer right in the middle of the action.
“I only paint what I have lived. If I don’t understand how to get there, all I get is a pretty picture without emotion or passion. I show desire and play between people – often real people, just with different faces,” she explains. You could say that Victoria’s intimate diary hangs on the walls of a Berlin bar.
In fact, you are constantly confronted with faces that resemble those of the artist. It is not so important who Victoria was when she was working – a spectator, a participant, or whether everything happened in her imagination. What matters is that the viewer feels the nerve.
Painting in the trenches
Another story in the life of Berlin’s most provocative Ukrainian artist is her involvement in the defence of her country. “When the war started, I thought my art had come to an end. Who would want it? It would just be forgotten. But it didn’t. And it can help,” she says.
Almost immediately, Ukrainian soldiers at the front began writing to Victoria. They said her paintings inspired them and asked for more. Reproductions of her paintings hang in soldiers’ barracks and dormitories, and she has organised her own exhibitions and sales, with the proceeds going to the needs of the AFU.
“It excites and inspires me, I am madly in love with the men and women who defend our country,” she says. If you think Victoria has brought innovation to the art market in the German capital, it is clearly not the subjects of her paintings. Berlin has seen more.
But there is a real, unwavering passion and desire in her paintings. And that makes a fresh impression – even in saturated Berlin. “And desire is what makes us live and do things,” she says.