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The Art of Revolution

Gaia '11 and Mata Ruda '12 Among Street Artists Ushering in a New Era in Ukraine

Posted 09.19.16

When the Euromaidan Revolution ended in Ukraine in 2014, the city of Kiev was left covered in the detritus of the revolt. Protestors and government forces had clashed over four violent days, and both sides used fire as a weapon. The impact of that destructive force was all around — in the trucks torched by Molotov cocktails, in the smell that lingered after barricades made of tires were set on fire, and in the soot that seemed to cover everything, everywhere.

It's important to understand the extent of the damage in order to fully appreciate what has happened in Kiev since the revolution ended. Almost as soon as high government officials fled the country and parliament began voting on reforms, a series of fantastic, large-scale murals began appearing across the city.

These murals can be found all over, spreading from Kiev's outskirts to the central streets surrounding Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, where the protest that sparked the revolution began (see this map of murals in Kiev). They cover plain brick walls and towering, Soviet-era cement apartment buildings. They pay homage to Ukraine's culture, history, and the revolution, and they stand as testament to the city's resilience. Above all, they are works of art, created by local political activists as well as renowned street artists from around the world — including two rising stars from MICA.

One of the city's newest works, the magnificent Archangel Michael and the Dragon, was created by MICA alumnus Gaia '11 (Interdisciplinary Sculpture B.F.A.) in early August of this year. The work soars over Prospect Bazhana in Kiev's outskirts, with imagery paying homage to the country's heritage.

Gaia from Bye.film.

The archangel, as Gaia explains, "is a prominent figure in Ukrainian and Russian Orthodoxy, often invoked as protection from invasion by enemies and civil war. In this image, the devil has been removed and the mirrored figure is reflected in its stead. This image stands as a testament to the ongoing conflict in Crimea and Donbas between Ukraine and Russia."

An international figure whose career spans both street art and gallery success, Gaia traveled to Kiev through the efforts of ArtUnitedUs, an international project that seeks to use artistic mediums — including murals — to highlight issues of war, aggression, and violence. They are planning to create 200 murals in the city, with the end goal of helping the country begin a new, more peaceful era.

The group brought another MICA alumnus, Mata Ruda '12 (Painting B.F.A.), to create a mural in the heart of the city, just steps away from Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Called Protectress, the artwork represents Berehynia, a healing figure in Slavic folklore, and incorporates Ukraine's national flower as well as a traditional floral scarf.

Protectress by Mata Ruda

The work also demonstrates Berehynia's importance of to the country; in 2001, a monument to the figure was placed in Maidan Nezalezhnosti, and much of the country's romantic nationalism centers on the matriarchal myth.

It's no surprise that the two MICA alumni were selected to take part in the ArtUnitedUs project, given Gaia's stature as a street artist and Mata Ruda's growing presence in the genre.

Heralded by The New York Times announced as "among the names you'll see again and again these days," Gaia is a Baltimore- and Brooklyn-based artist who was also listed as one of Forbes' "30 Under 30 in Art and Style" in 2015. He continues to be in demand across the globe, and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Istanbul and Berlin. His murals can be found in cities from New Delhi to Montreal.

Mata Ruda's work has been exhibited by El Museo Barrio in Harlem, the Street Art Museum in Russia and the Newark Museum. He has also been invited to paint public murals around the world, including in Mexico and Puerto Rico and in cities around the U.S.

This page was last updated on 09/19/2016.