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Kateryna Bilokur: the story of one of the most prominent Ukrainian artists

Kateryna Bilokur: the story of one of the most prominent Ukrainian artists

Kateryna Bilokur was born on December 7, 1900, into a peasant family in the village of Bohdanivka in Poltava region. Kateryna began drawing as a child: with a stick on the snow, on a path, wet after the rain, or with charcoal on anything where a trace was visible.

Kateryna Bilokur used whatever she had on hand to create paintings that she described as “born in her head.” The girl learned to make paint brushes out of cat tail fur and paints out of natural colorants. “Flowers, like people, have souls and are alive! And a flower that has been plucked is no longer a flower,” the artist believed. Flowers were the embodiment of the most elegant existential beauty for Kateryna Bilokur. She never tore them because she considered it murder. Bilokur went to the flowers with an easel and worked on a painting near mallows or dahlia bushes. When Kateryna Bilokur wanted to draw a flower, she would walk for kilometers until she found that one.

The parents chastised and humiliated their daughter for refusing to marry. Such scandals were usually followed by a ban on painting and the destruction of the artwork.

Kateryna Bilokur ran to the river in the fall of 1934, desperate to drown. She stood in icy water up to her chest, saying goodbye to life…

Once Kateryna Bilokur heard Oksana Petrusenko singing “Wasn’t I a viburnum in the meadow” on the radio in the spring of 1940. Bilokur was so moved by the performance that she wrote a letter to the singer and also put a piece of canvas with her viburnum drawing into the envelope. The drawing impressed Petrusenko, so she showed it to the artists she knew… Soon, an order to find Kateryna Bilokur and examine her artworks comes from the Center of Folk Art to the regional department. So, in 1940, the artist from Bohdanivka, Kateryna Bilokur, opened her first personal exhibition of 11 paintings in the Poltava House of Folk Art.

After years of repressions, so-called “dekulakization,” forced collectivization, and the Holodomor, Ukrainian peasants were practically confined to the villages. They did not have passports till 1974 and could only get certificates from the district department of the NKVD after the appropriate permission from the collective farm chairman and local administration head. That is why Kateryna Bilokur never had a passport. She died in 1961 and was buried in her native village. The Soviet authorities presented her art as “the work of a collective farmer from the village of Bogdanovka.”

She wished to escape the village, so hostile to her gift, and to be closer to the environment of artists. In 1947, the artist was asked to paint a portrait of Stalin. If she had done that, it would open all doors for her. Bilokur, however, refused.

Three paintings by Bilokur, “Tsar Colossus,” “Birch,” and “Collective Farm Field,” were included in the Soviet art exhibition at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1954.
When Pablo Picasso saw them, he exclaimed, “If we had an artist of this level, we would make the entire world talk about her.”


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