As Russian forces continue to attack Ukraine in the largest assault on a European state since World War II, artists around the world are using their art practice to try to make sense of the current situation. Historically, art communities everywhere have responded to the effects and violence of war, often expressing the absent voices and the forgotten stories of those who fought in previous conflicts.
For Gary Baseman, the current war in Ukraine brings back memories close to home and the land where his ancestors once lived.
Baseman was the first American-born child of four to Ben and Naomi Baseman, both Holocaust survivors originally from Eastern Poland (now Ukraine). Ben Baseman survived the mass murders that took place in 1941-42 in cities across Eastern Europe, including his hometown of Berezne. After World War II, Ben met his wife Naomi, another Holocaust survivor from Kostopol, at a displacement camp in Austria. In 1958, the family moved (via Canada) to Los Angeles where Gary was born and grew up with his three siblings in the Fairfax District.
Through his work, Baseman has investigated his roots and family history in meaningful projects including the exhibitions Walking through Walls (2011) and Mythical Homeland (2013), and has collaborated with other artists to pay tribute to his father, including Partisan, a print created with Shepard Fairey featuring an image of Ben Baseman during his time as a freedom fighter; Mythical Creatures—a documentary that explores the dark experience of his parents during the Holocaust, and The Buckingham Warrior, an animated tale featuring a character Baseman created to honor his father’s will of survival.
Inspired by these previous projects and embracing elements of Ukrainian culture, Baseman has produced paintings calling for peace in the region and supporting the resilience of the Ukrainian people. In this Sunflower painting, Ukraine’s national flower reflects the flower bud’s tendency to follow the sun across the sky, and symbolizes loyalty and resistance against the Russian invasion.
In The Mighty Ukrainian Warrior, the artist adds the colors of the Ukrainian flag to Buckingham Warrior, whose multiple heads, limbs and antlers when chopped or lopped off grow back with persistence, recognizing the strength and determination of the people of Ukraine.
Through his social media channels, Baseman continues to remember and speak about the times he visited Ukraine, the friends he made on his trips, and his solidarity with the people of Ukraine and those in Russia who are against this war.