Tapestry Design


Art Commemorates Disaster

Children suffer the most from Chernobyl

Saturday Free Press, Winnipeg, April 19, 1997
For the Free Press


Forever Remembered
By Margaret Khomenko

To June 30
****1/2 out of five

On April 26, 1986, in Chernobyl, a town north of Kiev in Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear accident occurred. It had a devastating effect on a whole region and a whole generation.

The exhibit of computer-generated images by artist Margaret Khomenko at the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre commemorates the disaster.

The contaminated farmlands and the resulting radiation sickness in the area around Chernobyl have had a particularly tragic and long-term effect on the children, who have suffered dramatic increases in incidents of thyroid cancer.

The entrance to Gallery 2, on the second floor of the building, is flanked with black columns and candles arranged on pillars. A pale green light illuminates the entrance. Reverent, traditional music plays in the gallery, creating an atmosphere of grief and loss.

This exhibit pulls no punches. Khomenko's surrealistic art draws tears easily, without having to resort to explicitly gruesome images or hospital scenes.

There is also an underlying anger, or protest, in this collection of art, as well as a sense of deep betrayal. The Soviet officials who worked harder to cover up the disaster than to help its victims are implicitly condemned.

Each of the 12 pictures is backlit, mounted on a light box. The curator has spread the pictures generously across the long gallery, which allows for each image to penetrate sufficently before the viewer moved on to the next one.

The artist has also gleaned quotes from survivors of the disaster, mounting each beside the images. One sepia-tone collage depicts a man's outstretched hand - probably that of a government official. Within its palm are the agonized faces of the children of Chernobyl lit within the picture by candles.

Beside this sorrowful image is the quote: "What causes these pains, what sorts of pains are they? Children are shouting, groaning, shrieking. They groan just like adults. These are little children of three and four."

The metaphor of children as candles recurs in the collages as well as the quotations. Another quotation reads: "Our children are not merely ill, they are being snuffed out like little candles before our eyes." Beside those words are a triad of female saints, one of whom appears to be a folk icon, hovering in the air with the woods behind them. The forest is aglow with the sick light of radioactivity, and below the saints, reaching up out of a pool of water, are the arms of drowning children, begging for help.

Yet another picture addresses the tragic irony of a rich farmland region, a bread basket of Ukraine suffering from starvation because of the contaminated milk, garden produce and farm grains.

A room is depicted, with a large wooden dinner table at the centre. Bread and wheat are on the table, but there are no people dining. Instead, the walls in the room have images of people from the community projected on them, and a framed portrait of a sick child hangs at the centre.
On the ceiling of the room are swirling metaphysical images of children, as if heaven had opened up above the room to reveal the ghosts of Chernobyl.