'To Freedom' Celebrates Art from Ukraine, Poland and Estonia

By Abbey Goers - UW Stout

Menomonie, Wis. – University of Wisconsin-Stout’s choral areas and Furlong Gallery, within the School of Art and Design, have collaborated to bring the art, history and music of Estonia, Poland and Ukraine to the communities of the Chippewa Valley.

“To Freedom” will celebrate the nations’ heritage and help build ties between neighbors during a series of cultural offerings open to community members.

The celebration will open with an art exhibit featuring artists of Estonian, Polish and Ukrainian descent. It will be on display from Monday, Nov. 7, to Tuesday, Dec. 20, at Furlong Gallery in UW-Stout’s Micheels Hall. An artist reception will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.

A still from Monika Weiss's short film Koiman II (Years Without Summers) / Monika Weiss

A concert featuring four area choirs and celebrating the music of Estonia, Poland and Ukraine will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, in Menomonie.

The exhibiting artists are:

Riivo Kruuk’s Kättemaks (Revenge) / Riivo Kruuk

Kruuk is a painter and mural artist from Charleston, S.C. Working in oils, acrylic and spray paint, he is inspired by graffiti, the Renaissance and Baroque periods, street art, fashion, nature and his Estonian heritage.

Shmigel is a first-generation child of parents who left Ukraine during WWII and grew up active in the Ukrainian diaspora community. A practicing artist, Shmigel teaches art on the university level. Her works address architectural structure, process, ritual and place. She is based in St. Louis.

Weiss, over the past 25 years, has developed a transdisciplinary practice composed of moving image, sound, sculpture, performance and drawing. Recurring material and motives include sound, water, the body, stillness, doubling and gestures of lamentation. She often focuses on a relationship to history and collective remembrance.

Polish American artist Monika Weiss / Monika Weiss

"To Freedom” will feature Weiss’s Koiman II (Years Without Summers), a 20-minute film inspired by Winterreise, composed in 1828 by the German Romantic composer Franz Schubert. The work is dedicated to the artist’s late mother, pianist Gabriela Weiss, and to current refugees and migrants around the world. Each film portrays an anonymous female protagonist performed by the artist.

Weiss divides her time between her New York studio and her professorship at Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has been featured in more than 90 international solo and group exhibitions. It has been written about in numerous books and publications, including the New York Times, ARTnews and Art in America. Her solo museum exhibitions include Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Lehman College Art Gallery, New York; and Museum of Memory & Human Rights, Santiago, Chile. Weiss’s biography is written by Katarzyna Falęcka.

Weiss will perform Orgé 2022, composed and choreographed by the artist, with participation by the UW-Stout Chamber Choir and select faculty and students, at the “To Freedom” opening reception on Nov. 7.

Other student opportunities in October include visual artists visiting various studio art courses. Guest lecturers Natalia Ripeckyj, of Eau Claire, and Natalie Nowytski, a Minneapolis-based Ukrainian folk musician, will visit UW-Stout.

A rare opportunity

Director of Choral Activities Jerry Hui appreciates the many external partners supporting “To Freedom,” including the official cultural arms of three countries: the Estonian Consulate General in New York, the Polish Cultural Institute New York and the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York. Also contributing were the Ukrainian American Community Center of Minnesota and Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc.

“It is a rare opportunity for UW-Stout to partner directly with cultural bearers of specific geographical regions in creating these rich educational experiences,” Hui said.

Riivo Kruuk’s Vabadusele (To Freedom) / Riivo Kruuk

Jaanika Peerna, cultural affairs coordinator at the Estonian Consulate General in New York, said “the consulate is delighted to collaborate with UW-Stout on a project which sheds light on the powerful role culture plays in fighting for democratic values and connecting people from different walks of life. It’s not every day we get to work with so passionate a professor as Dr. Jerry Hui who initiated 'To Freedom' and has been leading the project so wonderfully.

“If even just a fragment from a melody from a Ukrainian song, a visual detail from an Estonian artist’s painting, or a single word from the Polish language would stay lingering in a student’s mind, this could be a steppingstone to a much more in-depth inquiry into the role of culture as a tool for transformation,” Peerna said.

Since its foundation, the Polish Cultural Institute has worked with various universities. “We hope that through the ‘To Freedom’ project, the students at UW-Stout as well as residents of the greater Eau Claire-Menomonie area will learn about and relate to Ukrainian cultural heritage and its universal democratic values embraced and emphasized by Polish and Estonian cultures,” said Izabela Gola, curator of visual arts and design, Polish Cultural Institute.

A still from Monika Weiss’s short film Koiman II (Years Without Summers) / Monika Weiss

“We anticipate that the project participants will connect with the broader humanitarian and reconciliatory message that the work of Monika Weiss contributes to this project,” Gola added.

Kathy Nalywajko, president of the Ukrainian Institute of America believes “the arts offer a means to expand our understanding of the nature and character of conflict through the application of a different lens, and, crucially, a means to understand society’s changing attitudes to war and peace.

“We’re excited and proud to have played a role alongside our Estonian and Polish friends in celebrating the unique artistic and living cultures of our respective heritages in ‘To Freedom,’” Nalywaiko added.

Sharing musical traditions in concert

In addition to the exhibit, four area choirs will perform “To Freedom,” a concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 910 Ninth St. E., Menomonie.

Director of Choral Activities Jerry Hui and UW-Stout Symphonic Singers / UW-Stout

UW-Stout Symphonic Singers and Chamber Choir, conducted by Hui, will perform music from Ukraine, Poland and Estonia that speaks to the perils of war and the desire for peace. Examples include “Hej Sokoły,” a Polish folk song about a soldier’s longing for his Ukrainian beloved; and “For Ukraine,” composed by Estonian contemporary composer Erkki-Sven Tüür only six months ago. The university choirs will be joined by Schola Cantorum of Eau Claire and the Treble Singers from the Menomonie Middle School.

Siim Sööt, honorary consul of Estonia, plans to provide a presentation on Estonian history and culture.

Swan Lake Ballet and Ganna Ensemble, an Eau Claire-based dance studio, will perform to some of the songs. The ensemble is led by Ganna Berge, a lecturer in UW-Stout’s mathematics, statistics and computer science department. She was born in Crimea, a peninsula that borders Ukraine and Russia.

Tickets are $5 and will be available to purchase online in late October.

“I hope people who attend the concert or visit the exhibition will gain a new appreciation of the culture and history from Central Europe and may be motivated to seek further understanding in this region that has dominated recent news,” Hui said.

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