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Ukraine Highlighted in New Exhibition at AU Museum

The exhibition Lost Europe: On the Edge of Memories, by Czech documentary photographers Karel Cudlín, Jan Dobrovský, and Martin Wágner, premiered in the United States on June 17, 2023, at 6 pm, at the American University (AU) Museum at the Katzen Arts Center and runs through December 10, 2023.

Throughout the AU Museum’s second floor, the 75 black and white pictures offer a glimpse of mainly rural Ukrainian life between 1991, the year of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and 2018. The images reveal a place full of the poetics and drama of a fast disappearing world.

“All three artists are genuinely interested in Ukraine, and their documentary work has a deep human quality,” said curator Milena Kalinovska. “Their motivation was to capture something authentic, particular. These lyrical photographs, although straightforward and accurate, have ageless intensity and acknowledge deep historical context with lingering traces left.”

Ukraine bears a complicated storied past. The word “okrayina” means “edge” – the edge of one world and the brink of another. The country sits directly between the European Union and Russia. Continuously traumatized, especially between 1932 and 1945: Holodomor, war, anti-Jewish persecution, the Nazis, the Red Army, the cycle of partisan warfare and punitive carnage, left an indelible mark on the country. Over 14 million civilians died in that timeframe alone.

In the exhibition, the photographs present clues of this tumultuous past: a stark snowy field with Soviet dilapidated buildings, industrial factories spewing smoke next to a river, an old Jewish cemetery with headstones askew on the side of a road, ducks waddling past decapitated statues, and desolate rural landscapes. The exhibition asks, “Why does so much pain and drama happen here?”

Within this darkness, though, there is also a will to survive, persevere, and overcome. An old woman sits on a farm as the sunlight peaks out from behind the clouds. Horses run freely over a bridge. A baby lies swaddled on a bed. Children laugh as they throw snow at one another.

“This exhibition evokes a strong sense of wonder and pain but also hope. With the current onslaught on Ukraine, it is imperative to help Ukraine as much as we can to emerge to find much-deserved peace, stability, and prosperity,” said Lukáš Přibyl, Head of the Public Diplomacy Department at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Embassy of the Czech Republic and 400 ASA (https://www.400asa.org), a collective of documentary photographers.

In connection to the opening, the AU Museum held a special gallery talk with photographers Jan Dobrovský and Martin Wágner, moderated by Milena Kalinovská, on June 20. Over 100 people attended the talk in the Abramson Family Recital Hall, followed by a reception in the AU Museum with the opportunity to walk through the exhibition. American University Museum Director Jack Rasmussen welcomed guests and Czech Ambassador Miloslav Stašek opened the event.

Karel Cudlín
, born in 1960, trained in photography at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He worked as a photojournalist and served as one of Czech President Vaclav Havel’s official photographers. An award-winning artist, Cudlín is known for black and white documentary photographs.

Jan Dobrovský, born in 1960, saw his family persecuted by the Czechoslovak Communist regime. He became a dissident for human rights and was involved in publishing art and literature in samizdat (forbidden manual reproduction and distribution of censored and underground publications.) Formerly a journalist for the underground of Lidové noviny newspaper, he returned to black and white documentary photography full-time in 2000. He is a co-founder of the group 400 ASA, a collective of Czech documentarian photographers active worldwide.

Born in Prague in 1980, Martin Wágner attended the Prague School of Photography and graduated from the Institute of Creative Photography in 2013. Russia and Ukraine have been the focus of his intensive travels and work. Wágner has won a number of prizes and has exhibited at home and abroad. 


Lost Europe Opening