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The Essential Labor for Survival

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Panel discussion
Organized and moderated by Yuliia Elyas, with Misho Antadze (filmmaker, Amsterdam), Tetyana Filevska (Creative Director of Ukrainian Institute, Kyiv) Maria Hlavajova (Artistic and General Director, BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht), Robbie Schweiger (Researcher Collections, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam)

The Essential Labor for Survival invites representatives from Dutch art institutions and Europe-based cultural workers to engage in a discussion about how Ukrainian identities are presented, represented, and archived. This exchange comes about amid the ongoing war in and occupation of Ukraine by Russia, and the new-found pressure on Ukrainian cultural workers to produce meaning, or to explain what is happening at home. In recent months, some artists have chosen to suspend their practice and take up arms to fight the occupants, or to do volunteer work to help those who are internally or externally displaced. With all this going on, it is important to point out that this state of emergency is not something new, but part of an ongoing trajectory of imperialism and coloniality in Ukraine as well as other former Russian colonies. The Essential Labor for Survival looks at how Dutch institutions have contributed to perpetuating certain cultural myths or ideologies, and considers whose artistic voices have been selected or prioritized in the past decades. This panel critically engages with existing narratives about Eastern Europe by art institutions of Northern Europe, and asks how these narratives might be complicit in the circumstances that lead to this moment. Along with discussing strategic steps for cultural institutions to apprehend the coloniality of the war in Ukraine, space is also given to think about the role of the radical imagination in times of life-threatening emergency.

Artist statement

Yuliia Elyas's artistic practice explores the dynamics that generate social narratives. With resources ranging from museum archival collections to digital languages of communication she examines how stories and storytelling render the formation of realities. Yuliia further imagines how artists can intervene in these reality narratives, as well as the independent agencies those narratives can take. She is dedicated to the peculiar geographies and weird temporalities in the life of ideas.


Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my perception of time has changed. It is hard to plan anything when your country is under heavy missile strikes daily, and everything you know and love is threatened. My horizon for planning is really narrowed down to one day. What can I do today? How to solve urgent questions, like organising humanitarian help for people in Ukraine, collecting, and transporting. Helping displaced people in the Netherlands, coordinating them with different NGO organisations.

If you think about different temporality, a more long-term project is to create space and decentralize discourse for cultures that have survived imperialism and occupation. I want to contribute to bringing back complexity in understanding the region, formally known as Eastern Europe. Instead of thinking in terms of localities and geographies, to think about relations.

Learned during the studies

How to channel institutional privileges into communities.

List of publications / exhibitions / prices / concerts / shows etc.

Elyas (co) initiated various long-term collaboration practices with the Second Thought reading group and the "Out of touch: Making space from the blue hour" project.

2021 Virtual Empathy, Academic Gallery, Utrecht.
2021 Spacial Hair assembly, wax pouring performance, Plet, Amsterdam.
2020 “ReContext Histories”, Mystetskyi arsenal, Kyiev, UA, installation.
2019 ’Rietveld Uncut‘ Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, NL, Film project
2019 ‘Underwater Art festival’, Amsterdam,
2018 ‘Contextualism’ Plan B, Amsterdam, NL.
2018 Traffic signs. Project in the public space, Croeselaan, Utrecht.Project collaboration with the city of Utrecht..
2018 Ionna, Fijnhout, lived stream performance from Fijnhout gallery.
2017 ‘Wired cocoon’ Utrecht, Plompetronegracht 2 a, NL live stream

Dziga, animation

This work is reaction to the fact that the Stedelijk Museum used a poster written in Ukrainian language to promote an exhibition about the history of the Russian film art. The movie itself "Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbas" (1931) by Dziga Vertov is about Donbass region of Ukraine, which is sadly known for war with Russia.
Through reappropriation of the footage, Yuliia Elyas creates a space to make underrepresented identities visible and bring awareness to the decision of prioritization of certain narrations over the others within the museum's archives.