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Anatoly Haydamaka — an artist who paints poignant pictures, designs memorial museums, and decorates modern churches


Entering the world created by the artist Anatoly Haydamaka, you feel as though whisked into a half-forgotten dreams and visions, in which images are hardly more than hints, fuzzy traces of the indistinct experiences which create a feeling of wistful and nostalgic melancholy.


Anatoly Haydamaka takes us to his alternative world of symbols, where the night is permeated with the fragrance of apples, where the dots of light are like drops of rain frozen in flight, where the gnarled branches of mysterious trees are like signs of eternity. Haydamaka’s works are windows into a world in which dwell faded images of things that never existed, and things that did exist and left traces in the memory, and in which light enhances colour and colour enhances light. Apples that we can see in almost all paintings by Haydamaka are connected with recollections from the past — recollections about childhood, about the garden which was tended by his father, about the subtle scent of late fall redolent of apples. Haydamaka himself admits that apples are symbolic for him, and says that “the garden mood” has been with him since childhood. Earth, sky and apples can be easily perceived as symbols readily understandable, if somewhat vague. Haydamaka wants to be frank and open in his art without making it too difficult for comprehension; at the same time, he makes us feel there is an enigma in it, philosophical reflections in the form of images.

Anatoly Haydamaka is much more than a painter — he is an artist who creates interior and exterior designs for museums, including the way exhibits are displayed. All in all he has made designs for 26 museums — The Museum of Books in the Lavra Monastery in Kyiv; The Museum of Kotsyubynsky (prominent Ukrainian writer of the late nineteenth – early twentieth century); The Literary Museum in Odesa; The Museum of Shevchenko in Kazakhstan; The Museum of Chornobyl in Kyiv; The Museum of Cossacks in Khortytsya; The War Museum in Kyiv, to name just the most important ones.

When asked, what motivates him to do design work for museums, Haydamaka said,

“It gives me satisfaction, a great satisfaction I should say. As far as creativity goes, I do not make a distinction between a painting and a design for a museum. My approach to creating a painting and a design is basically the same. Of course, when I do design work and create a painting, the technique and methods are different but the essence is the same for me. A museum is not just a collection of exhibits displayed. The way they are displayed can be imbued with meaning, the whole place can become a philosophy. It could be even compared to a documentary or a feature film… I pay attention to every little detail, I create a museum as a comprehensive piece of art, with every little thing thoroughly thought of. … The artist who designs the interior of a museum is like a film director, and the museum is the film, frozen in time.”

Haydamaka does not say which of his designs for museums he likes best, and adds, “Some halls are my favourites.” Some museums, he says, he felt particularly honoured to do design work for — The Museum of Shevchenko at the poet’s birthplace, in the village of Moryntsi, and The Museum of Kotsyubynsky which was commissioned by Kotsyubynsky’s daughter.

The decoration of the Cathedral of Holy Trinity in the town of Radovis in Macedonia was also a particularly important and honourable commission for the artist. This church has already been called an architectural marvel of the 21st century in the Balkans. The ground floor space is 550 square meters; the interiors are decorated with frescoes and the exteriors with mosaics; stained glass in the windows are magical displays of colour. Haydamaka’s basic concept was to create murals which would reflect the present-day state of art and of Christian Orthodoxy, and he managed to realize to the full all of his artistic intentions. The colour schemes, the balanced compositions, the subjects and images are all integrated into one impressive whole.

“There was so much work to do. We did the murals, we designed the iconostasis, floors, lighting. Everything that’s in the church and around it has been designed with a purpose of creating one integrated unity. I’ve learnt so much from working on this project, as well as everybody else who was involved. I remember so well the first time I walked into the church which we were to decorate and it felt like stepping into an empty space, a desert. And this empty space should be filled with a message… It took five and a half years to do it — a considerable part of my life. It was the first time I was involved in work on such a vast scale… On the other hand, any work I do feels as though I do this kind of thing for the first time… Take a museum, for example — every museum is unique, you can’t have similar museums of Shevchenko or of Kotsyubynsky or of anybody or anything…

I wish I could do something similar in Ukraine as well. There’s one church in the land of Zaporizhzhya that I hope could be decorated in a new way… Talking about hope, I can’t help mentioning here that the 700-year old oak in the island of Khortytsya, the very heart of the Cossack land, died not so long ago. It’s as though we were so engaged with regaining our independence that we forgot about our history, about our roots — and the oak has died… But it was much more than just a very old tree — it was a symbol. And then — there’s a dump right next to that dead tree. It’s even strange that the tree was not cut down — I saw so many live trees being chopped down in towns without any good reason… I decided to turn the natural landmark into a landmark of history. It was the only way to save it. And I did save it — that Cossack tree is now a piece of sculpture. There’s a horse standing next to it, a bronze horse, riderless, it looks so sad… And there’ll be a small church built there…”

Anatoly Haydamaka gets excited when he talks about his plans and ideas. There are hundreds of rolls and sheets of paper everywhere — on the shelves, on the table, in the corners, and strewn on the floor of his studio. They are designs and sketches of projects, many of which the artist does not even hope to see realized, but which he couldn’t help sketching on paper. Some projects were submitted to contests, won them but for various reasons have never been carried out.

“Unfortunately, here, in Ukraine, it’s so difficult to get things done, and not only because of lack of money. Take, for example, Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the central square of Kyiv — the reconstruction has cost so much money, and what? Just a mess. It’d have taken much less money to give the square artistic and architectural integrity it deserves, but… It’s a problem not so much of money, but of artistic tastes of those who take the final decisions.”

One of Haydamaka’s projects is “a park of world’s cultures” which could be a sort of encyclopedia of the history of Ukraine’s culture.

“I submitted this project to a contest, won the contest back in 1999, and nothing else has happened ever since. It seems nobody’s really interested, and at the same time nobody says anything definite… I visualize this park laid out not far from the Vydubytsky monastery, close by the road that leads from the Paton Bridge to the subway station Vydubychi. I’d create sculptures out of bushes and trees which would tell a story of various cultures and civilizations that existed in the territory of Ukraine since times immemorial — Trypillya (WU wrote about Trypillya culture in its previous issue — tr.), Scythians, Nomads, Samarians, Greeks, Bulgarians, just you name it… All the cultures which ever existed in Ukraine, and of which we know something, would be represented in that park in a peculiar, symbolic way. I’d like people to fully realize that the history of Ukraine goes back thousands of years, and the last twelve years of independence are just a moment compared to the rest of Ukraine’s history. Ukrainians, particularly of younger generations, should be aware that Ukraine is a country of ancient culture.”

It would be a great pity if this culture park never becomes a reality. It is paradoxical that history text books for secondary schools have so much information about ancient Rome and Greece and other ancient civilizations and so little about the Trypillya culture.

Another of Haydamaka’s project is a museum complex in Baturyn, the seat of Ukrainian Cossacks destroyed by the Russian troops on the order of Czar Peter I after the Battle of Poltava in 1709 in retaliation for Ukrainian Hetman Mazepa joining forces with the Swedish King Charles II against the Russians.

“The town which was the residence of Ukrainian hetmans, was razed to the ground, with 20,000 Ukrainians killed… Several years ago in a museum in Poltava I saw a small icon of the Virgin Mary, a little copper plate with the image of Mother of God. It had been found during archeological excavations in Baturyn — three centuries ago, a woman was hugging her child, praying for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and both were cruelly slaughtered. The icon was found by the side of their remains. I was so moved by this that an idea immediately came to my mind — a sort of a memorial could be created in Baturyn, with a wall and a gate to town which is no more, and 20,000 copper icons of the Virgin Mary studding the wall. An icon for every one who died in Baturyn. In the bright sun these icons would sparkle like flames against the dark wall. And a bell tower nearby with bells. I’d use as a prototype the bell tower of the Mykilska Church in Kyiv which was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in the 1930s… It was Hetman Mazepa who had it built and it was an architectural masterpiece, the best out of all the churches that he ordered to build. The memorial would commemorate the tragedy of Baturyn, the tragedy of Mazepa, the tragedy of all the churches destroyed and people massacred in Ukraine in the past few centuries.”

There are several rolls with designs and sketches of the Baturyn memorial in the artist’s studio but there is no telling whether they will become a palpable reality.

Anatoly Haydamaka has many messages to us, only a few of which he has been given the chance to deliver.


More photos


By Lesya Hryhoriva


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