A tiger came into the garden
Art of Maria Prymachenko

A tiger came into the garden

Maria Prymachenko (1909–1997) is an icon of Ukrainian art. Her oeuvre has helped shape Ukraine’s cultural heritage. The exhibition A tiger came into the garden. Art of Maria Prymachenko is the first presentation of the artist’s work in Poland of such breadth. The gouaches shown here, from 1982–1994, derive from the private collection of Eduard Dymshyts, and are a selection from among hundreds of works by Prymachenko.

For over six decades, Prymachenko created art in the village of Bolotnya in the Polesia region, midway between Kyiv and Chernobyl, an area she never left. She survived the Holomodor, the Second World War, and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (her family village lay within the 30-km Exclusion Zone), and lived to see an independent Ukraine. She was “discovered” as a folk artist in 1935 and hired as an embroiderer at the Central Experimental Studio at the Museum of Ukrainian Art on the grounds of the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv. Her works were shown at the First Republican Exhibition of Folk Art in Kyiv in 1936, and then at the World Expo in Paris in 1937 and in numerous European cities, including Warsaw, Prague and Sofia. She was a painter, embroiderer and ceramicist, and an illustrator of children’s books. She became a professional folk artist. Starting in the 1960s, she led an art school in Bolotnya. She continued creating art until the end of her life.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Prymachenko’s works have taken on particular relevance, in part due to their anti-war message. In 2022 the Local History Museum in Ivankiv, not far from Bolotnya, was burned down, although some of her paintings there were rescued. The Maria Prymachenko exhibition at MSN Warsaw is a continuation of efforts to promote broader knowledge of Ukrainian culture.

In her work, Prymachenko depicted the connections between humanity and nature, drawing on folk traditions of Polesia, rich in symbols and metaphor. She painted people, animals and plants in her everyday surroundings. Her images of the world built on observations of the everyday life of Bolotnya undergo a magical transformation—they do not so much portray reality as undergird it and exert a positive influence on its fate, casting a spell. One of the motifs in her painting is fantastic creatures and birds, both mythological and inspired by pagan beliefs (The Smihun (The Laughter) beast laughs––he isn’t afraid of people; The beast-tchapun (tapper) taps, blinks its eyes, slaps its mouth. Tchapun (tapper) is a savage; The forest queen is laughing at people).

Her characteristic bestiary, containing numerous depictions of “humanized creatures” in an archaic composition with heads forward and bodies in profile, comprises numerous elaborate allegories, often expressing moral judgments, mocking human vices, or celebrating the delights of everyday life (The otter says: "It is better to be friends with a snake, then with a drunkard husband"; The monster begs bitter vodka (horilka): –– Come back, let's have fun. –– I will never come back here jet). Prymachenko’s recognizable style involves a decorative line, and flat, intense patches of colour. Initially she used watercolours, but in time only gouache (watercolours mixed with chalk). In her work, language is another transformational force. Prymachenko often gave her works poetic, descriptive titles, which sometimes help decipher the paintings, or serve as dedications or wishes, as well as modified quotations from folksongs (I give sunflowers to those who love to work on the land and love all people on earth; I am giving the red poppies to people to they love the holy land and work on it).

The garden mentioned in the title of the exhibition represents nature, which coexists harmoniously with humans, and in exchange for their work gifts them with all its bounty, while the tiger symbolizes the mysterious, fantastic and wild (The tiger came into the orchard and admired how many apples had grown up). It may also point to efforts to represent the element of danger. After the Chernobyl disaster, Prymachenko also created a series of works connected with nuclear threat and war (May nuclear war be cursed! May people don’t know it and haven’t any troubles!). Through the power of her surrealistic imagination, sense of humour, and also a certain dose of optimism, her works are dominated by a humanistic message and a vision of harmonious coexistence of the human and non-human worlds. Prymachenko’s dream was that “people would live like flowers bloom.”

The exhibition A tiger came into the garden. Art of Maria Prymachenko is based on works from the collection of Eduard Dymshyts and is a continuation of the project presented in 2022 at the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv. The showing of these works in Poland is also made possible thanks to cooperation with the Prymachenko Family Foundation, which safeguards the artist’s legacy.

A Tiger in the Garden: The Art of Maria Prymachenko
Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
22 March – 30 June 2024

Szymon Maliborski

Curatorial cooperation
Eduard Dymshyts

Scholarly consultation
Tetiana Wołoszyna

Anka Kobierska
Aleksandra Nasiorowska

Exhibition architecture
Matosek Niezgoda

Visual identity and graphics
Kaja Kusztra, Rafał Dominik

Communications coordination
Anna Cygankiewicz

Józefina Bartyzel, Przemysław Rydzewski, Aleksandra Urbańska, Iga Winczakiewicz, Olga Zawada

Lead editors
Anna Cygankiewicz, Agnieszka Radtke
cooperation: Aleksandra Urbańska

Ukrainian–Polish translation
Katarzyna Syska

Polish–Ukrainian translation
Svitlana Guselnikova

Polish–English translation
Christopher Smith

Consultation on Ukrainian texts
Taras Gembik

Curators of public programme
Jakub Depczyński, Sunflower Solidarity Community Centre (Taras Gembik, Maria Beburia, Yulia Kryvich, Kaja Kusztra)

Production of public programme
Matylda Dobrowolska

Coordination of educational programme
Aleksandra Górecka

Jakub Drzewiecki, Anna Łukawska-Adamczyk, Aleksandra Górecka, Maria Nowak, Karolina Iwańczyk, Dominika Jagiełło, Marta Przybył

Accessible Museum
Anna Zdzieborska

Volunteers and alumni
Dominika Jagiełło, Marta Skowrońska-Markiewicz

Visitor services
Cezary Wierzbicki, Jolanta Woch

Valeriia Mostenets, Olga Mzhelskaya, Lesia Shykiriava, Petra Skarupsky, Bernard Wnuk

Jagoda Cerkiewnik, Natalia Dovga, Taras Gembik, Yaroslava Holysh, Svetlana Kohutnytska, Tomasz Krajewski, Paula Kuch-Krawiec, Marcin Matuszewski, Julia Sarzyńska, Natalia Siuchta, Luxuan Wang, Wanda Woźnicka, Gabriela Żylińska

Anna Pomorska

Mada Zielińska

Exhibition execution
MSN Warsaw exhibition execution team