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Arts / Culture

In Sarasota, a new exhibit features Ukrainian children processing war through art

Color drawing of red buildings with tanks on the street below.
Courtesy of UA Kids Today
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The exhibition, which runs through May 21 at Sarasota's Chasen Gallery II, showcases Ukrainian children's art that expresses their feelings on the events unfolding since the Russian invasion.

More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion — the majority of which are women and children.

As you step inside the Chasen Gallery II in Sarasota, it’s as if you're entering a classroom. Atop a set of school desks and chairs, absent of children, sit unopened notebooks which are partially burned.

A faint scent of char still lingers.

"These notebooks speak to the fact that many schools were destroyed by the Russian invaders through indiscriminate or purposeful shelling of civilian objects," said Sarasota-based artist, Wojtek Sawa, who created the installation.

Vojtek.jpg
Cathy Carter
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Wojtek Sawa is a Sarasota visual artist specializing in participatory installations. His work has been exhibited at the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Salvador Dali Museum, Art Center Sarasota, and other venues.

Elsewhere is a large blackboard. Written in chalk is the phrase, "Vocabulary: new words this month." Those words include "rocket attack,” "subway shelter," and "atrocity."

"These were words that the kids had never used before,” said Sawa. “Maybe they heard of them somewhere in the periphery, but they were never part of their everyday language and now they are."

The artwork in the show reflects a gamut of expressions from children aged 3 to 18.

Some painted images of conflict, others shared dreams of peace.

A six-year-old girl named Sonya drew a fluffy black cat surrounded by big red hearts. It's titled "I Miss My Plusha."

Drawing of black cat surrounded by red hearts.
Courtesy of UA Kids Today
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The exhibit is a collaboration between several local artists and organizations like the Sarasota Arts Alliance and the UA Kids Today project, an online art gallery created to help children cope with the trauma of war and having to leave their homes.

Sawa himself is an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Poland when he was 11.

He says leaving at such a young age was a jarring experience for him, and seeing how bad it is for Ukrainian children displaced by war made him want to act.

“I would cry a lot, I would get angry a lot and I felt like, I'm an artist, I need to do something,” he said. “I can't just look at Facebook posts and listen to the news. So I thought this connection with children was really important. They are losing everything right know. I felt that Ukrainian kids needed to know the world cares, and how we treat them is going to be how they see the world.”

Drawing of soldier in green uniform carrying baby wrapped in blue blanket
Courtesy of UA Kids Today
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Viewers of the exhibit can write notes to the young artists that will be photographed and sent to the children.

The exhibit is free, but viewers can purchase copies of the art, with proceeds going to the children and organizations supporting refugees.

In a few weeks, Sawa and his artist wife Basia will travel to Poland to deliver the donations.

The Ukrainian Kids Art exhibit is at the Chasen Gallery II in Westfield Southgate Mall in Sarasota and runs through May 21.

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