Ukraine has made a noticeable entry into the American dialogue as of late. And while sound bites and press conferences have been filled with mentions of Ukraine in the last several months, one pioneering photographer -- and now Holderness School faculty member -- has spent the last twenty years covering the winding evolution of a nation in transition.
Joseph Sywenkyj, a two-time Fulbright Scholar and recipient of the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, is an American photographer of Ukrainian descent. He specializes in documentary, reportage, portraiture and travel photography. Twenty years ago, he began working in Ukraine, the nation of his ancestors.
His exhibition, Verses from a Nation in Transition, features approximately fifty photographs from three of Sywenkyj’s long-term projects from Ukraine. For two decades, Joseph focused his lens on health issues related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and war trauma.
Sywenkyj’s work includes a large family in Odessa living with HIV. Starting in 2001, the story expanded into a narrative that examines family more than it documents illness. The story progresses slowly, yet captures tender moments of family life and dynamics that cover a variety of situations and emotions.
The exhibition also features coverage of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Revolution in which a peaceful protest movement in favor of closer ties to the European Union turned into an anti-government revolution after President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime authorized a violent police crackdown.
As the Euromaidan was coming to a close and Ukrainians were burying their dead, Yanukovych and his inner circle fled Ukraine for protection in Russia. Moscow subsequently launched a multi-pronged assault and ongoing war against Ukraine resulting in no less than 13,000 dead. Joseph documented the lives of severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers and activists for a project titled Wounds. Many of those he photographed, and featured in this exhibition, are battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while others are addicted to painkillers. Each of the men he photographed have several things in common: Pain -- severe physical and emotional pain and the daunting task of adapting to a new post-injury life.
Verses from a Nation in Transition will be the first Edwards Art Gallery exhibit to feature virtual reality, allowing visitors to experience moments of the Euromaidan Revolution as if they were there.
Verses from a Nation in Transition opens on Friday, January 24th with a reception from 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM. The exhibit will run through April 18. Normal operating hours are 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 9:00 AM - Noon on Wednesday and Saturday. The exhibit is closed on Sundays as well as February 10 - 11 and March 20 - April 1.
In 2003, a year after graduating with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York, Joseph Sywenkyj moved to Ukraine on a Fulbright Student Grant. He was also a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine from 2014-2016.
Joseph was the recipient of the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography in 2014. He was also a finalist for the Smith Grant in both 2011 and 2009. In 2012 he was awarded a Camera Club of New York Darkroom Residency. Joseph was a finalist for a Hasselblad Masters Award in 2010. In 2003 he was named as one of Photo District News 30 Emerging Photographers to watch. He attended the 2002 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass and in 2001 was awarded a Visual Arts Foundation Grant. Kodak Professional has sponsored the creation of his work in Ukraine as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
His photographs have been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums including Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; Les Rencontres d’Arles in Arles, France; George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; The Richard B. Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC; United Nations Visitor’s Lobby in New York City; University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover, Germany; Pretoria Art Museum in Pretoria, South Africa; FOAM, Photographic Museum Amsterdam in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and The Camera Club of New York in New York City.
Joseph has worked extensively on assignment throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has also worked in Africa, the Middle East, and North America. His photographs have appeared in various publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Conde Nast Portfolio, Chrismon (Germany), Departures, The Financial Times, Focus (Germany), Forbes, Fortune, GQ, GeoLino (Germany), Inc., Internationale Samenwerking (The Netherlands), Institutional Investor, iO (Italy), Marie Claire (France), Men’s Journal, National Geographic, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Stern, Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), Time, The Times of London, U.S. News & World Report, and many others. NGOs and humanitarian organizations include The Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund and KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation. Joseph has also worked for multiple corporate clients.