The Face(s) of War: Can Public Art Installations Foster Spiritual Foci in the Midst of Military Conflict?
Joanne Pepper

For the past three years (2015-17) the world has watched anxiously as a civil war has raged in Ukraine. During the same time, free-lance visual artists have been on-site, producing provocative images of participants in the on-going conflict. In particular, Roman Nikolaev’s and Yuri Bilak’s photo essays “16” and “Proektsia,” respectively—have garnered international attention for the ways in which each artist has examined the day-to-day human realities of war in Donbas through the lens of spirituality. In both photographs and paintings, priests and soldiers are seen working side-by-side. Life and death issues are framed in activities suggesting divine calling, supernatural courage, Christian community, spiritual consolation, and the ennoblement of sacrifice. Religious and irreligious persons alike have been fascinated by the spiritual intensity of these artistic visions.

This presentation explores the complex dynamics between religious piety, personal patriotism, and political propaganda, and between social influence and spiritual inspiration as depicted in the work of both Nikolaev and Bilak. Images will be displayed and examined for their effect through explicit and implicit messages.


Joanne Pepper, PhD (Warwick), is Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Intercultural Studies Program at Trinity Western University. Her recurrent research interests mainly address ways in which religion and popular culture intersect in a globalized world. Joanne has lived and worked in both Russia and Ukraine, and has recently returned from an extended period near the war-zone in eastern Ukraine.