Ukrainian artist-poet born more than 200 years ago touched on themes strikingly relevant today

Show featuring the work of Taras Shevchenko planned for April 8 after Tuesday’s fundraiser.

SHARE Ukrainian artist-poet born more than 200 years ago touched on themes strikingly relevant today
Ksenia Levkovych sings the Ukrainian national anthem during a preview Tuesday of “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine,” at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago at 108 W. Germania Pl. on the Near North Side.

Ksenia Levkovych sings the Ukrainian national anthem during a preview Tuesday of “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine” at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, 108 W. Germania Place.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

On the surface, “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine” is an introduction to one of that Eastern European country’s greatest poets and artists.

But dark skies unleashing drenching rain and embers lighting up the night sky unintentionally evoke the present-day mood in war-torn Ukraine.

That’s just fine with Valeriy Kostyuk, producer of the show, which combines giant images of Shevchenko and his artwork — animated and swarming across the walls of Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, just north of downtown.

“One hundred and sixty years have passed since Shevchenko’s death, and all of his ideas, all of his urges to break out of slavery, to continue pushing Ukrainian ideas, the idea of an independent Ukrainian state — we’re still fighting for those ideas today,” Kostyuk said Tuesday during a preview that also featured a young girl in traditional Ukrainian dress singing that country’s national anthem.

Taras Shevchenko was born a serf in Ukraine in 1814, eventually freed some two decades later by a group of artists who recognized his talent. But best known as a poet, his portrait hangs in children’s classrooms across Ukraine, Kostyuk said. His written work touched on themes of Russian oppression and the idea of a free, democratic Ukraine — dangerous ideas that earned him years of exile.

He also painted portraits and scenes of everyday life in Ukraine — depicting both its beauty and struggles.

“We wanted to demonstrate the emotions that he was experiencing through his lifetime. So here you’ll see some comic elements, some elements of love, some elements of struggle and hate,” Kostyuk said.

Preview of “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine,” at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago at 108 W. Germania Pl. on the Near North Side, Tuesday morning, March 15, 2022.

Preview of “Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine” at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, 108 W. Germania Place.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The 15-minute-long show was intended as a one-day fundraiser, but due to its popularity, organizers said, a second show is now planned for April 8. For more information, go to lighthouseimmersive.com.

Many of the works featured in the show were on display in Ukraine, but were boxed up and evacuated as Russian bombs began to fall in February, Kostyuk said. The paintings were put in the same crates used to protect the paintings when the Nazis invaded.

“This truly shows how history repeats itself,” Kostyuk said.

All proceeds from ticket sales are to be donated to Red Cross Humanitarian Crisis Appeal Fund to Benefit Ukraine and National Bank of Ukraine Fund, organizers said.

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