Bedecked in an odd yellow protective suit and wandering through a ruined landscape, the figure could be a member of the first landing party of an invading alien army. And yet, to the Ukrainian audience at the current Kiev Biennale, the scene is immediately recognizable, for it comes from their own recent history. It's Chernobyl.
Taken in 1997, the photograph is by Japanese artist Kenji Yanobe, and it's part of a series of works based on the theme of "revival," particularly in the face of devastating man-made disasters, such as the nuclear accident that occurred in 1986 at Chernobyl, in what is now northern Ukraine. The works, which also reference Japanese pop culture with their robotlike suits and presumptions of impending Armageddon, have made the 46-year-old artist one of Japan's best known internationally. Earlier this year, he was invited by The Japan Foundation to show his art in Moscow — the latest in a long string of international shows stretching back more than 15 years.
But it wasn't until this, the inaugural Kiev Biennale, that Yanobe gained the courage to take his works back to Ukraine, where they would be viewed by the people who suffered most in the accident from which he has long drawn inspiration.