Religious Imagery in the Visual Field of War: New References to the Tradition
Keywords:graphic art, religious imagery, visual culture, iconography, cultural memory
The paper looks at the works of modern Ukrainian graphics (both printed and digital), which dealt with the events of the war in Ukraine from 2022 onwards. It focuses on the artworks, which use Christian symbolism and iconography and looks at how these symbols were reinterpreted in the context of modern visual culture and the current expectations of Ukrainian society. The study is structured around the categories of cultural memory and representation, in particular the visual and narrative strategies when dealing with the wartime events. It, too, is informed by approaches of visual studies, developed in the works of W.T.J. Mitchell, D. Freedberg, and T. Wright, which helped to determine the primary message of the artworks, secondary elements, and to treat them as a very specific visual message. To systematise the graphic material collected after the full scale invasion 2022, a topical approach was chosen, which means that the focus was not on the chronology of the war, but on the crucial categories in the subject matter of the religious imagery: images of the Mother of God, holy warriors, motifs of the Passions, martyrology, etc. The artworks in question demonstrated a shift from conventional patterns of religious iconography to updated ones. For example, the theme of Christ’s Passion and the tools for torture was altered to become an image of Ukraine's suffering in the course of history with all the struggles and losses of political independence and constant resistance through these centuries. Obviously, the photos and videos from the war omnipresent in the mass and social media became an important visual basis for most graphic works. The article reveals the process of transforming the local war narrative into a universal one, by virtue of the mental imagery fixed in the Ukrainian public consciousness. Analysing the graphic artists’ responses and their use Christian imagery demonstrated how the war stimulated the creation of a new mythology, a new pantheon of heroes, designed to motivate, resist and , ultimately, lead to victory. The images of Christian saints, whose iconography was reinterpreted in several graphic works, gained particular importance for forming this new mythology.
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