Bringing Ukraine to the West Coast: An Exhibit of Extraordinary Strength


Belen Yudess ’25
Staff Writer

A traveling art gallery that aims to counter the erasure of Ukrainian identity and culture caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Bringing Ukraine to the West Coast about statement).

Marina Shishkina ’25 never fails to astonish audiences through her ability to curate and coordinate exhibits that showcase the power and unity created through art. Beginning in June, Shishkina’s newest mobile exhibit, entitled “RAW,” will run through her recently founded non-profit Bringing Ukraine to the West Coast. RAW looks to bring awareness to the ongoing war in Ukraine and the perseverance of Ukrainian citizens and artists.

Shishkina has successfully curated “Lovers, Strangers, and Friends” which was an independent project that focused on the connection between the body, mind and soul, as well as “Reprinting Claremont” which was run through Claremont Heritage and highlighted Claremont’s historic printmakers.

The project consists of five pop-up gallery exhibitions across the West Coast, featuring fourteen Ukrainian artists who will showcase their work from mid-May to mid-August 2023 (Bringing Ukraine to the West Coast “about statement”).

Shishkina, who is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, was inspired to begin this project to bring the war back to the forefront across the West Coast.

“Raw is war spelled backwards, and that is exactly what we are doing with our exhibitions; we are portraying the raw narratives of Ukrainians within warzones,” she said. “Our presented artists have suffered the unimaginable; they have seen their homes completely erased and more. The stories of these artists are the most authentic narratives of the war. People are forgetting what is really happening — from a distance, wars swallow individuality and personhood. So highlighting their voices and their raw reactions to the war is combining my heartache and my passion into one project.”

Shishkina also noted that her passion towards this exhibit stemmed from her own desires to engage with the war and its importance in encouraging action from the U.S.

“Since the war has started, I’ve never felt more responsible, heartbroken, and angry,” she said. “Looking around, I notice that there’s a lot of people here that could be super helpful to people that are in need and want to be, but there are also people that don’t really care. I didn’t listen to politics, but I knew people were dying, that wars were happening and people were treated unfairly. But until it hits home, you really don’t know … It’s so hard to put into words, but I’ve entered college with intense trauma. I always felt like I needed to do something, and interacting with all of these Ukrainian artists and talking to so many Ukrainian people in the past five to six months has already made me feel a stronger connection to the community.”

Shishkina is not alone in organizing RAW, with her team consisting of 5C students and other peers who feel a similar call and connection towards Ukraine. Aside from Shishkina who is founder and director, her team includes co-director Sasha Shunko CMC ’25, engagement coordinator Caroline Tuck ’24, and graphic designer Oleksandra Tsapko Zurich University of Art ’24. The European Union of the Claremont Colleges has also been imperative in assisting with the funding and logistics of the gallery, specifically EU director Agneiszka Lazorczyk. Other essential collaborators include the Mgrublian Center of Human Rights director Wendy Lower and assistant director Kirsti Zitar; Linda Jaye Cox Shimoda from the Hive; Gretchen Maldonado from LASPA’s We Act Grant; David Shearer of Claremont Heritage; and Shishkina’s brother who has offered immense amounts of support, advice and love.

RAW is an unconventional traveling gallery that will be made up of different types of media created by Ukrainian artists such as paintings, video art, installation, performance, and photography regarding the war. The exhibit will begin at Claremont Heritage on May 11, and will proceed to make its way to Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle throughout the summer.

The show will feature 14 Ukrainian artists whose work Shishkina was able to ship to California. Although there are myriad of pieces and themes being displayed and explored, Shishkina believes that rawness best embodies the collective idea being portrayed.

“They have no choice because their feelings, emotions and lives are just war,” she said. “They all have very different types of art and it’s all very multimedia, but they all rip their heart out and give it to the country and it’s something really beautiful to be a part of. But it’s also so heartbreaking because the country should be fulfilling the people, but right now the country has broken legs, arms and neck.”

Shishkina has curated several shows before, but organizing RAW allowed her to learn more about her leadership capabilities and the formal process of putting on a large-scale exhibition.

“This past month, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this process is that I don’t [have to] put so much pressure into every single little thing,” she said. “If this show doesn’t get ridiculously recognized or I don’t become an independent curator in three months, it’s okay. I just want to have fun with this exhibit and travel the West Coast. I’m super excited to do this really meaningful project but also explore, surf, and make new friends. I’ve learned trillions of things like how to write grant applications and how to talk to people [to negotiate or create contacts]; mostly I learned that being a leader is really hard.”

Shishkina is not only enthusiastic to bring RAW to the West Coast, but also to familiarize herself with the area that she is learning to call home.

“I think it’s my new home, at least for now,” she said. “This January I felt I finally had a space that’s mine and that I could start calling California my home. I’m excited to visit my friends throughout the West Coast even though it is so far from home.”

RAW debuts in Claremont after the end of the academic year, but Shishkina encourages folks who are able to visit the gallery at Claremont or one of its many pop-up locations.

“If you’re home or working in California, Oregon, or Washington, come on over even if we don’t know each other!” Shishkina said. “I would love to meet you. Also if anyone also wants to get involved, we’re always looking for creatives and new friends.”

For more information on RAW, follow @ua.westcoast on Instagram.

The artwork explores the pure and raw emotions of Ukrainians living, grieving, and fighting through the war (Bringing Ukraine to the West Coast “about statement”).

Image Source: Belen Yudess ’25

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