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
Through several centuries, there have been different statues erected around the world. These statues vary in sizes and what they represent. Photographer Fabrice Fouillet embarked on a tour to study and take photographs of the biggest and most imposing statues in the world; A project he named Colosses. The project brings about a change in how these monuments are viewed, in other words, the idea of the project is not entirely to capture images of the statues or show off their sizes or the symbol they represent. The project however is to show these figures in the environment they are in and how they fit into the landscape and their connections to their immediate surroundings. Colosses is a study of the landscape in which monuments and commemorative statues are erected, and tends to bring out another perspective from which these symbolic representations can be viewed.
There can be different reasons why statues are erected and these include political, ideological or religious. Most times, statues are erected to keep alive the memory of a person or event and with the passing of the years, the statue will eventually become a symbol for the community.
As the series Colosses is all about the landscapes in which these statues are sited, we get to see the connections these gigantic declarations have with their immediate environment. A lot of statues were erected around the world in the 1990s with many of them located in Asia. Right now the world’s highest statue is undergoing construction in India and it will go as high as 182 meters which will be almost twice the size of the statue of liberty.
For this project, Fouillet took photographs of the statues outside their surroundings totally detaching them from their natural environment thereby giving a wider view and perspective to how these huge monuments fit into the landscape. He captures the monuments from a perspective we don’t usually get to see every day. Some of these monuments include the Dai Kanon in Sendai, Japan which he framed from a few blocks away. Christ the King monument in Swiebudzin, Poland was framed from behind. For some of the monuments, Fouillet shoots wide enough to capture the details of the things in the environment of these looming monoliths. For example, in the image of the Grand Byakue Kannon in Takazai, Japan, there is a Coca-Cola machine just down the hill away from the monument. According to Fouillet, his intention is to take out the monument from its regular touristic and religious setting which we are already used to.
So far, the project has spanned through ten countries and Fouillet thinks the project would not be complete if he does not capture the monument of Genghis Kahn riding on horseback which is located on the banks of the Tuul River in Mongolia and the Sardar Patel statue which is under construction in India. For the biggest statue in the world at the moment, the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan, China, Fouillet said he was unable to find a satisfying angle.