Artists create 20 new murals for Ukraine to encourage dialogue after vandalism
It’s golden hour on Cinco De Mayo in Fort Myers Florida, where twenty local artists and the public are coming together in solidarity for the people of Ukraine. All to the sounds of Caribbean music from local group Karibbean Groove.
The Ukraine Mural Project came to be after two murals, depicting Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy by local artists Erik Schlake and Roland Ruocco, were vandalized multiple times at the Alliance for the Arts. The project is a collaboration between the Fort Myers Mural Society and the Alliance.
Now, an accordion of twenty 4×8 foot murals painted by local artists line the Alliances’ festival grounds. All using vivid colors - most emphasizing the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag- and thought provoking imagery.
Several pieces honor the women and children of Ukraine. One mural depicts a young girl painted black in white surrounded by a vast field of golden sunflowers. She stares thoughtfully at a bright yellow flower in her hands that glows on her starkwhite cheeks.
Other murals take a stronger approach, with one seemingly calling out the vandals. This painting illustrates Adolf Hitler throwing red-streaked, black paint onto a mural of the Ukrainian flag.
Artist Erik Schlake stands in front of the mural he created for this response project. It’s based on a viral video of Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy with his team behind him. Schlake says this larger mural project is the best way to respond to the vandalism.
“I don’t think there’s many good responses, and I do think that when it comes to art, art should create a dialogue," said Schlake. "And if you’re going to create that dialogue, the only way to respond is with more or different art."
Artists were given seven days to create their mural with little parameters other than to think of the people of Ukraine and have it back at the Alliance before the unveiling.
Oleg Kulyk is a Ukrainian artist who has lived in Naples for 17 years. His artwork is not a mural, but a metal sculpture titled “The Ukrainian Woman.”
Kulyk describes the piece as the embodiment of women screaming in agony as Ukrainian children die from Russian missile attacks.
“She screams because she wants to bring attention of the war," said Kulyk. "How Russia is affecting our Ukrainian lives. She usually, woman, wouldn't scream, she would keep it quiet to herself. It’s her last chance to work, to heal, and stop this terror, genocide, of the people.”
As we talk about his art, Kulyk tells me about his family who still lives in East Ukraine. He describes talking to them the evening before:
“Yesterday, I was talking with my parents on the phone, they constantly sirens are going off." said Kulyk. "And when I was talking to my friend, he was looking in the window, he lives on the outskirts of the city, so he saw the missiles all flying. fourteen missiles were flying in the city, so it’s many civilians dying.”
Kulyk says the Ukraine Mural Project at the Alliance is proof that Ukraine is not alone, and he plans to share the effort with his friends and family living on the frontlines of the war with Russia.
“This event, actually, will show the people [that] Ukrainian not alone. We feel the very big support from America, and from the government, from the people. And we have hope.”
And if the 20 new murals happen to face vandals again, Erik Schlake has an interesting proposition.
“I would ask that they come and paint with us for a week," said Schlake. "We’re looking for dialogue and we understand that not everybody agrees, but in every conversation there’s common ground. There’s things that we can all agree on if we throw away the talking points and just start talking from the heart. So, that’s what we would like to see happen.”
The murals will be on display at the Alliance for The Arts until June. The artwork may travel to other parts of Southwest Florida in the future.