Spotlight on: artist Anton Shebetko on his series about Queer history in Ukraine

Spotlight on: artist Anton Shebetko on his series about Queer history in Ukraine
Published: October 22, 2022

We’re very proud to be showing the works of Ukrainian artist Anton Shebetko during this year’s DGTL events in the NDSM Warehouse. He portrays Queer Ukrainians who are living or temporarily staying in Europe. His series ‘To Know Us Better’ shows people who moved to Europe after Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the war in the East in 2014 and Russia’s full invasion in 2022.

Can you introduce yourself to the people that do not know you yet?
My name is Anton Shebetko, I’m a Ukrainian artist based in Amsterdam for the last 5 years. I work a lot with the topics of memory, identity, and plurality, while the main focus is on histories of the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community, both from present and the past.

What inspired you to create this work?
Originally, I planned to work on this project in Ukraine. For many years I have been working with the Ukrainian LGBTQ community, its history, and its coexistence with a mostly homophobic and conservative Ukrainian society. In most of my projects the anonymity of the participants was a key requirement due to the inability to predict the consequences of a public coming out.

However, in the few years that I have lived outside of Ukraine, there have been significant changes in society. Large-scale equality marches began to take place, safe spaces were opened across the country, positive media coverage, and hope for hate crime laws emerged. These were small but very important steps for the Ukrainian queer community. More and more people started to come out and live openly.

I wanted to highlight those changes and make series of portraits and interviews with open representatives of Ukrainian queer community. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has changed the lives of all Ukrainians, not just the queer community. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died at the hands of Russian invaders. More than 14 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Of course, there are representatives of the queer community among them. It was their portraits and stories that became the basis of this project.

What influences your photography? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Inspiration usually comes from the people I meet and the stories I learn. Quite often those stories become not just an inspiration but a basis for future research and subsequent projects. So, I can say that my community is the biggest inspiration for me.

In which way do you feel society has undergone a change the last few years and in which way do you hope to see society change in the coming years?
Where do you feel we currently stand when it comes to creating conscious dance floors at electronic music events? What are positive transitions we’ve undergone and what are steps we still need to take for the community?

I would love to give some positive answers to these questions but I’m afraid I can’t. Sure, all around the world dance floors are becoming more and more safe havens where people respect each other’s borders and have opportunities to express themselves freely without risks of prejudices and ostracism. At the same time, society is polarized the most in recent history.

The Russian imperialist war against Ukraine, war in Syria, Iran’s government violent oppression and murders of women and protesters, the ongoing pandemic, the rise of right-wing powers all around the world. Every day brings new horrors and challenges, hatred and neglect. It’s not a pretty picture, to be honest. Too bad, the mutual respect we are cherishing on the dance floor doesn’t automatically apply to the real world. Maybe the reason why we are witnessing improvements in the dancefloors is the desperate need for escapism. People need to have a feel of the community, people want to forget that the outside world exists. Too sad the world and society isn’t a dance floor. It’s very easy to forget about your struggles and the world around you while dancing, but for me personally, it’s a luxury to do.

What do you hope DGTL visitors will take from seeing the work?
I hope that my project will at least a little bit increase awareness about Ukrainian queer community, increase the support of it and Ukraine in general. If this happens, I’ll be happy.


7 – 8 – 9 APRIL 2023