The Art Unit: Democratising and Opening the Art World

by Josephine-May Bailey
March 29, 2022
Stone by Olena Shtepura
Stone by Olena Shtepura

From paintings and photographs, to drawing and film, art is a fully sensory form of storytelling – and the best of it doesn’t just make us feel something; it says something. Art continually shifts, grows, pushes boundaries and takes new forms. However, more often than not, only the select few are allowed entry into the hallowed halls of the Art World. However, in a (nearly) post-covid, NFT-friendly, #artistsupportpledge world, the power of the public, social media and other online tools have given people a stage to articulate their preferences, and showcase artists who otherwise may not have been seen.


The Art Unit, an online curatorial space founded by Mariia Kashchenko, is a part of this change. Dedicated to supporting the practices and voices of emerging artists, The Art Unit speaks to a new generation of artists and collectors, those who wish to “level the art playing field”, and move towards a more democratic artworld; an ecosystem in which artists, the public and collectors lean on each other to respect and promote the voices of the many fantastic underrepresented and emerging artists.


Twenty one Ukrainian artists are currently exhibited on The Art Unit. Today it feels especially pertinent to be placing these artists into the spotlight. From the soothing abstract painted works of Ivan Verho to the vibrantly colourful and pop-art esque works of Mariia Shostakovska, the exhibition highlights the sheer vastness of emerging talent based in the country. When speaking to founder Kashchenko, she said: 


“I was born and raised in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine and my family lives there… it is often challenging for artists from non-European countries to reach the global art market, so I decided to help them with that…I also wanted to support Ukraine and get a chance to communicate our talent with a wider audience.” 


This interview was conducted prior to the horrific invasion of Ukraine, and as such Kaschenko’s words hold even more weight.  It is vital for platforms such as The Art Unit to exist and help showcase the vast pool of Ukrainian artists’ talent.  Traditionally, Ukrainian art has been influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Slavic mythology of gods, battles and power. However, especially with the influence of the post-modern and neo-avant-garde movements, Ukrainian contemporary art has evolved into a vibrant, dynamic scene through significant social and political change.  


A particularly evocative work Stone (2019) by Olena Shtepura stands out. Using a beautifully muted colour palette of teal, forest-green, mustard-yellow, and off white, Shtepura captures a meditative atmosphere. The oil on canvas painting is relatively big, at 120 x 100cm, yet feels wonderfully intimate. At the bottom of the canvas, feet peak out on the eponymous stone, tempting the vast water to breach its bank. There is a wonderful balance between abstraction and figuration within Shtepura’s work; nature’s vastness and energy is expertly harnessed in the paint itself.


The Art Unit has unlocked the previously impermeable door to the London art-market for these artists, and provides the support and opportunity for artists who are working in incredibly difficult circumstances. By breaking down the barrier of having to physically exist in a space to engage with these artists, alongside ‘The Art Unit Talks’ interview series, we enter a new arena in which we gain unbridled access to a plethora of Ukrainian artists who now, more than ever, need their voices heard.

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