About preservation and support of Ukrainian culture: an interview with Natalia Cola
Three years ago, Ukrainian-British philanthropist Natalia Cola started her eponymouse foundation in London. Its purpose was to support vital art institutions. The Russian invasion transformed the mission of The Natalia Cola Foundation, which today directs all resources to support and promote Ukrainian culture in the world.
In cooperation with The Natalia Cola Foundation, Vogue Ukraine has created the virtual exhibition ART ON THE BATTLEFRONT— a reflection on the new reality by 30 Ukrainian artists. We talked with Natalia Cola about art’s purpose amidst war.
How the idea of creating The Natalia Cola Foundation arosed
Patrons and philanthropists have always had the power to change the world through art. In art history, there are many examples from Lorenzo de Medici, who supported geniuses like Botticelli and Michelangelo, to one of the most famous philanthropists of the 20th century, Gertrude Stein and Peggy Guggenheim. In times of war and suffering patrons are impassioned to support art and culture — so that a nation’s craft, its identity can survive.
Kyivan Nataliya Cola has always been associated with art: she graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture and worked with Ukrainian artists as a curator. Natalia admits – art itself influenced her formation as a person: among the artists who had considerable influence, Natalia names both Ukrainian classics and contemporaries, in particular, Oleksandr Bogomazov, Ivan Turetskyi, Maria Primachenko, Tiberia Silvashi, Viktor Sydorenko, Anatoly Kryvolap; as well as world artists such as Alfred Sisley, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney.
Natalia moved to London more than ten years ago. The idea of opening her art foundation, The Natalia Cola Foundation arose in 2019. In 2020 when the world was covered by the wave of the pandemic and the crisis, it convinced Natalia of the correctness of her decision.
"During COVID-19, London's cultural institutions, like the world's, faced a huge crisis. London has always been a world-class city, but covid forced museums to close for a long time and look for new ways of communicating with the audience. I then realized that cultural city institutions cannot be taken for granted; they must be protected."
"I am glad that, thanks to my opportunities, that I can contribute to the future, supporting important cultural institutions like the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, the Royal Academy, and the The Serpentine. I am happy they can continue to flourish and train young artists."
Follow the activities of The Natalia Cola Foundation on social networks.
About the preservation of cultural heritage
In 2019 The Natalia Cola Foundation was founded, but the foundation's mission has transformed significantly during these four years.
"The foundation's goals have changed: from supporting educational initiatives at the Royal Academy of Arts to popularizing Ukrainian culture outside of Ukraine. Now we primarily work on raising awareness of Ukrainian culture and institutions worldwide, as well as funding; spreading knowledge about the uniqueness and sustainability of Ukrainian culture ".
Natalia says that when her foundation chooses an institution that it plans to support, the most important factors for her team are respect for tradition and, at the same time, support for young artists. "I choose institutions that value tradition, while championing new artists; ways of thinking and encouraging open discourse.
I grew up in the same vicinity as the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, attended the university that is affiliated with it, and am in constant contact with young Ukrainians in Kyiv who hold it in as high esteem as Londoners do the Royal Academy.
When I ask about the project that Natalia is most proud of as a philanthropist, she answers that it is an auction to support Ukrainian art. It took place in January at London's Royal Academy of Arts, marking the first time in its 250-year history that the venerable institution has supported fundraising for an outside arts institution. The stars of the British art world took part in the auction – Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Gormley, Conrad Shawcross, Ryan Gander, Alain Jones, and the former president of the Royal Academy, Sir Christopher LeBrun. Participants of the 49th Venice Biennale, Arsen Savadov, Oleg Tistol, Serhii Svyatchenko, Pavlo Makov, Hamlet Zinkivskyi, Olesya Trofymenko, Volodymyr Manzhos (WaOne), Ruslan Tremba joined the charitable initiative.
"We raised more than 220,000 pounds for the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts in London," Nataliya rejoices. These funds will support the grant program for Ukrainian artists, provide financial assistance, repair the National Academy buildings, and continue scientific, publishing, and exhibition activities and digitise the Academy's archives.
The mission of Ukrainian art is to show the world that the war will end with the victory of light over darkness
Natalia Cola has been living in London for a long time. After February 24, her Foundation directed its main resources to support Ukrainian art worldwide. During this year, they implemented an auction at the Royal Academy; they became partners in the Ukrainian avant-garde exhibition In the Eye of the Storm in Madrid and our own virtual exhibition ART ON THE BATTLEFRONT. Each of these projects is interesting to a foreign audience, Nataliya says.
Talking about the exhibition in Madrid, Natalya emphasizes: this project opened up to the world a whole layer of the Ukrainian avant-garde, which was previously mistakenly identified as Russian.
The quality and sophistication of Ukrainain artists demonstrated through "In the Eye of the Storm" was relatively unknown to Westerners. Learning about the "system of appropriation and enrollment" of Ukrainian artists into the ranks of Russians and the long-term imposition of this deception conveyed the resilience of Ukrainian artists to produce a unique cultural identity in the face of such repression. We see it in museums around the world, that have changed countless labels of artists for example from "Russian, born in Odessa to Ukrainain, born in Odessa".
Telling the world about Ukrainian art is precisely what Natalia Kola's mission is: "Our culture is being erased and destroyed every day. Our cultural identity is being stolen. It is a struggle not only for our identity. From the beginning of the great war, our mission has been focused on protecting and raising awareness of our culture and the artists who laid down their brushes to fight for their freedom.
Natalia is sure that the power of art today is to give hope for the victory of light over darkness. "The main mission of Ukrainian art at the moment is to give strength and confidence to the entire civilized world that the war will end with the victory of light over darkness. And since art is always ahead of reality, it is essential to create cultural landmarks for the future in which art will play a decisive role."
For this reason, The Natalia Cola Foundation became a partner of the ART ON THE BATTLEFRONT virtual exhibition, in which 30 Ukrainian artists reflect on the present. Natalia is convinced that the reflections of young Ukrainian artists can be fascinating and close to art connoisseurs abroad.
"The artworks in this project give hope and are meant to remind us of our humanity and fragility while allowing us to imagine a post-war future," the patron notes.
Natalia shares her impressions of the virtual exhibition: the works selected for the project incredibly sincerely reflect the artists' true feelings, which is impressive. "Of course, they show sorrow for the tragic events that happened, but at the same time, they embody Ukrainian bravery and heroism, which gives confidence in victory."
The result of the virtual project will be an exhibition that will take place from April 14 to 18 inclusive in Vienna, in the Künstlerhaus building, where the Albertina Modern museum is located.