On February 22, two days before the start of the full-scale war, I met Serhiy Enenberg, a theater director and a long-time researcher and keeper of art brut in Ukraine, at Pavlov Hospital. Art brut is the art of non-professional artists. The first collections were collected from people with mental disorders, prisoners. Such art is also called the art of outsiders.
Our meeting with Serhiy was not accidental. On the contrary, it was planned a long time ago and was intended for me, as a member of NGO Barrier Free, to understand whether our organization is able to assist Serhiy in his cause.
At the beginning of March last year, Serhiy phoned me and said that patients from the psycho-neurological boarding school in Pushcha-Vodytsia were evacuated to Pavlov Hospital. They needs everything: from beds and mattresses to food, hygiene products, clothes and just everything, in a word. On March 8, I saw for the first time who exactly needed help. 50 men were placed in the old building of Pavlov Hospital, which was being prepared for renovation. That is why it was empty and able to house new residents.
Nurses asked for help not only with household items, but also with other tasks: to wash someone, shave someone, feed someone who could not do it on their own. They were exhausted, scared, but kind and humane; I wanted to do everything possible for them.
The beds stood in the corridor in a row, along the entire corridor. Some were laying, others - sitting, and most just observed the chaos of the first days. This is an absolutely unforgettable memory during the war. There are no photos, because firstly, it was extremely unethical there, and secondly, you can’t take photos in such places.
One man stood out among all those present, to whom the queue for shaving was lined up. There was a smile on his face, he radiated joy and calm against the background of everything that was happening in the small building opposite St. Cyril’s Church and against the background of the fact that these were the first weeks of a full-scale war.
That’s how life brought me together with Stas Turina, an artist I knew only that he represented Ukraine in the Open Group at Venice Biennale three years ago. He did not realize how much he had managed to organize for Pavlov Hospital at that period, and then for Pushcha-Vodytsia Boarding School, and then for the military. He just did his own, different thing every day. And I helped him and Katya Libkind, who, despite everything, conducted regular classes with patients. It can be called in different ways. Art therapy, or just art or just therapy. The naming does not matter, the main thing is that people can manifest themselves and their vast world in any way. And Katya was and still is their partner and guide to themselves through creative expression.
My requests for humanitarian aid were quickly responded by our NGO Barrier Free, Volodymyr Vysotskyi and the Jusi Foundation, as well as by new partners, such as Masha Foundation and Coca-Cola.
The internal duty is to draw attention to art
After the experience at Pavlov Hospital, I clearly understand that our mental health system lacks one component that is not prescribed in the system - this is the basic principle of respect for the individual, regardless of their diagnosis and social role. It is difficult, because such an attitude is a complex issue and it is not formed quickly on request. These are education and care of adults, environment, reading, a level of social communication, social responsibility and many other components that over time will form a culture of respect for everyone and especially for everyone who is not normative.
And we also need to develop art brut - a direction in art that is actively developing in the world. The examples are museums in Bern, Vienna, Chicago, Lausanne and more. These museums exhibit their collections in different ways, depending on the history of their origin, and this is very interesting, because they are usually devoid of stereotypes of social canons.
The first steps towards the development of such a direction in Ukraine have been taken a long time ago, but to develop, make them visible and draw interest is an internal duty after such a close contact during the volunteering period. Together with Stas Turina and Serhiy Enenberg, we agreed on the first development initiatives with the patients of Pavlov Hospital, we had meetings in Warsaw with institutions active in Poland and, in addition to painting and sculptural practice, develop theater in particular.