Sculptures of social influencers help the citizens of a country to stay connected to their history. While it is important for both good and bad events to be documented in history, some monuments suffer outright rejection. This is the case as it is in Ukraine today where there seems to be waging war against Soviet symbols. Niels Ackermann and Sebastien Gobert have turned their artistic lenses on Lenin, the leader of Russia in 1917. Contrary to other photographers who focus on the aftermath of war, these two are interested in the story behind the war. The journey began in 2013, after the conflict of Maidan which saw the toppling over and smashing of the city’s last Lenin statue.
Niels Ackermann takes the pictures and his colleague Sebastien Gobert tells the stories. Their quest to preserve history has taken them on a tour of western Ukraine, looking for the story behind fallen Lenins under the project banner “Lost in Decommunization”. In the same way that the rise of Lenin was documented, Niels Ackermann and Sebastien Gobert seek to document his fate as he goes down. Once held in high esteem, this project will trace his path from glory to an unlikely trophy.
To think of the 5000 statues of Lenin in Ukraine, way above 2000 in Russia and then imagine that more than half that number would disappear with independence is frightening for future generations who have no visuals with which to connect history. It is estimated that the civil unrest that began in 2013 took down a further 1200. In an effort to forget this part of their past, Ukraine banned everything that is connected to Russia; from flags, street names, road signs, and the massive statues. The destruction of statues dubbed “Lenin-fall” is symbolic to their disconnection from the past. While there might be concrete justification for this, the process is quite dysfunctional.
In their journey of looking for Lenin, Niels Ackermann and Sebastien Gobert have had to traverse through Ukraine in search of the fallen sculptures. They find some in museums, gardens, kitchens and private collections but each discovery is unique. Quite fascinating is the reaction they get from Ukrainians; for some, it is indifference but many others want the Soviet Legacy gone for good. If for nothing else, the work they do is an integrated piece of art that combines investigation, discovery, stories, and pictures. For future generations, these and such works will form the basis for a fascinating debate about the journey they are taking as a nation.
Niels Ackermann & Sebastien Gobert – Dnipropetrovsk, November 2015
The head of Dnipropetrovsk’s Lenin was given to the city’s National Historical Museum. It remains in storage as the institution does not currently have the resources to exhibit it. Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro). November 13, 2015
Niels Ackermann & Sebastien Gobert – This nose belonged to a 28-foot-tall statue of Lenin, once the largest in Ukraine. It is now on display at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev as part of Yevgenia Belorusets’s installation “Let’s Put Lenin’s Head Back Together.” Kyiv, 5 february 2016.
Niels Ackermann & Sebastien Gobert – Kharkiv
A private collector has assembled a large collection of Soviet-era monuments, including dozens of Lenin statues. He stores them in his warehouse alongside materials for his glass business. Kharkiv. February 2, 2016
Niels Ackermann & Sebastien Gobert – The village of Korzhi is attempting to sell its statue for $15,000 to fund repairs to the local kindergarten and school. The price is high, and they have had no offers. The local mechanic in charge of the sale expects he will eventually have to trade it for scrap metal for less than $3,000. June 3, 2016
Niels Ackermann & Sebastien Gobert – V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in Chernobyl, 2016
This Lenin head is more than two meters tall and previously stood on the site of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in Chernobyl. It is now stored in a room used by the facility cleaning staff. Despite the authorities claims of contamination, no significant levels of radiation were found. October 6, 2016