«Jewish Observer»
November 2002
5763 Kislev

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A creative duet of Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko has become a symbol of artistic underground for several generations of Kievites, however paradoxical it is to speak about underground with regard to sculptural architectural composition.

I immediately recall the year of 1965, the project of a would-be monument to Babiy Yar victims (official name - "Monument to victims of fascism in Shevchenkovsky district of Kiev" since the word combination "Babiy Yar" evoked the authorities' steady allergy). The project "When the world collapses - Babiy Yar" by Ada and Vladimir was recognized the best by the expert commission to never be put to life.

...The shot Lament Wall, shot civilization, shot culture - and an immortal soul of the nation even the catastrophe of such scale is unable to exterminate.

Another wall arises before eyes - the Memory wall in Baikovoje cemetery, a grandiose creation the authors pioneered their know-how in: a spatial steel frame. "In this wall entire millenniums merge with the present-day, - Pavlo Zagrebelny wrote about the composition of Rybachuk and Melnichenko. - Our ancestors left their graves, frescoes descended from walls of Kiev Cathedrals to acquire volume and flesh. History came into nowadays to become great art and eternal beauty".

Party nomenclature destroyed this "eternal beauty" with a stroke of the pen, cynically concluded it into a concrete - similarly to those who rolled up their victims in a cement barrel.

These two dramatic episodes became a turning point in painters' fate. Their creative work was tabooed, their wonderful compositions, with a merest exception as, for instance, mosaics of the former Palace of pioneers, failed to adorn Kiev streets. But Ada and Vladimir do not belong to those who give in to difficulties...

Let's turn to history.

In September 1991 a new-born independent Ukraine officially, widely and decently marked the 50th anniversary of Babiy Yar tragedy for the first ever time.

"It looks as if the twentieth century was going to devastate the Ukrainian land - to make it a scene of most horrible tragedies, - Ivan Dzuba writes in the preface to poetic anthology "Echo of Babiy Yar". - Hordes of conquerors and "liberators" were passing through it destroying everything they managed to, leaving millions of victims. Maniacal "chiefs of progressive mankind" made it a laboratory for their barbaric experiments starving peasants and shooting off intelligentsia. Mankind seemed to be unaware of what was going on "the one sixth". But two tragedies, though different in character, have not only become world-known but are also landmarks of contemporary civilization. These are tragedies of Babiy Yar and Chernobyl".

Kiev then hosted an international film festival "Babiy Yar. Intolerance" and the officials charged Rybachuk and Melnichenko to design halls of the Union. The painters were short of time and decided on tapestries-applications.

The comments were superb, but our heroes remained dissatisfied. They came to understand a flat surface of applications couldn't render the depth of the idea. Moreover, they needed a more "eternal" material. The epithet "eternal" prompted the decision. Sheep wool... Bible prophets used to wear clothes made of it; Christ's shroud and cloaks of modern shepherds also come from it. Thus, an idea of a tapestry emerged. A rectangular 4,5 m high and 2,5 m wide was to be hand-woven. Professional weavers flatly rejected this "penal labour".

"Last Supper", at which we heard their refusal, - recalls Vladimir, - became a shock to us. We were in despair. But the next morning we were resolute to make anything by ourselves. You cannot guess how grateful we are to these women for their timely and candid refusal. They, anyhow, would not have stood it to consider our endless changes, amendments. Our working rhythm is that of Penelope: to weave at day, to undo the woven at night".

Good cause always attracts good people. One businessman, scientist-cyberneticist, made the first step - he gave money for wool, but on one condition - his name should not be mentioned.

And the packages of Carpathian sheep wool again stretched a spiritual, this time quite feasible thread between Galichina and Galilee. Friends helped bleach and dye the wool, create the warp of tapestry, assembled and disassembled the scaffolding the painters climbed dozens of times a day.

Now that the work is almost complete voluntary assistants manufacture exclusive lamps to light the composition.

Whereas for the time being... So far, I look at the tapestry lit only by the studio lamps, crossed by the horizontal planking.

The first thing to strike is a black-and-white solution of darkness. I recall Principalities - first lines of "Genesis": "The Earth was deserted and darkness hung over the abyss". Unprecedented Catastrophe, collapse of humaneness... Light had gone - and darkness again conquered the world.

"When our reliefs were being destroyed, - Ada recalls, - I stopped perceiving light for some ten years, the world became black-and-white. The same concerns tapestry - the light (and colour) has almost gone, shrunk as shagreen leather. Only several narrow vertical lilac stripes were left like slits in ramshackle old fences along which the doomed were strolling on that Judgment day. Plums were generous that autumn, and fence slits were shining with lilac.

"It constantly seems to me I hear their shuffling steps on pebble roads leading to Babiy Yar, - says Ada. - There is an old Jewish custom - to bring a small stone on the grave of a close person. We have miraculously succeeded in preserving several pebbles from those roads to be placed at the foot of our tapestry".

The center of the composition presents an expectant mother to fail to become Madonna. Her first baby is still in her womb; the latter is dissected as if part of a hellish sketch of a monstrous plan. We meet baby's square inverted eyes, which will never see light - only darkness of Catastrophe. Black halo surrounds the head, each separate hair of which resembles a question mark. Fragile mother's hands try to protect the baby and their unnatural bend reminds of a broken flower of Jewish matzevas. In general, the tapestry has no direct Jewish symbols - Menorah, Star of David.

The authors underline the worldwide common human character of the Catastrophe. Ivan Dzuba wrote in his already mentioned poetic anthology, "Babiy Yar became a grave for people of many nationalities, Ukrainians including, of all political trends - from Red Army soldiers to OUN members... As Victor Nekrasov once put it, Germans shot dead everybody, but only Jews were shot for just being Jews". Tapestry's details single out, almost imperceptibly, namely this nuance. We observe enormous, like silver fish (the oldest Bible symbol), eyes on the beautiful face of Madonna. There are two other pairs of eyes "escaping" the face in different directions: a graphic equivalent of a wandering look unable to comprehend the horror of the proceedings. The bodies falling into the abyss are queerly twisted and resemble letters from the Hebrew alphabet to compose a terrible name - Babiy Yar.

I want to mention another astonishing feeling, which appears when you silently stand before the tapestry.

This "woolen rectangular" emits the extraordinary power of spirit, feeling of human dignity, amiability.

I fail to explain how the authors have managed to reach such effect.

Can this be due to the bent in the death cramp thin, exhausted hands stretched to the skies?

Can this be due to the only bright spot - Madonna's golden curls flown upwards?

This image was prompted by the verse of Mykola Bazhan, big painter's friend. His "Yar" was written, by the way, long before that of Yevtushenko:

... The golden hair will call from the pit
The sail failed to hide it, the time - to destroy.

This is the unique work of art, single as a breath. One can't believe six years of minute work have been spent on it.

There is hardly a person nowadays ready for such achievements. The tapestry is hardly completed, but an art historian questions rhetorically: what for to spend efforts, money, time, after all, on the thing nobody has ordered? There is even no suitable wall to hang it on.

God bless, there is no such wall. Since the tapestry was thought as a volume composition organizing the surrounding space. It needs no flatness to be attached to. Let's recall that stones of the Lament Wall are fixed in no way and are supported by their own weight.

Heinrich Heine once noted, "Bible is a portable fatherland of Jews". I believe the tapestry created by Ada Rybachuk and Vladimir Melnichenko is a peculiar "portable" Lament Wall the Jews call Western Wall. For them this is not only a place of despair, sorrow, prayer but of a revived hope as well.

Let's once more recall the beginning of "Genesis", "And said the God - be the light. And the light came. And God saw it was nice, and separated it from darkness".

Let the tapestry "When the world collapses" woven by outstanding Ukrainian painters from Carpathian sheep wool become a fragile but insurmountable border to forever separate light from darkness.


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