Ester Segarra: I found how healthy the metal scene is here in Kyiv
This week’s interview is about something that not many people have heard about in the Ukrainian context – the metal scene. Our interviewer Bohdan Nahaylo talks to Spanish photographer Ester Sagarra, and Kyiv gallerista Myroslava Hartmond joins in the conversation.
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Oksana Smerechuk for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and we’re bringing you our feature in-depth interview followed by some new music from Ukraine.
This week’s interview is about something that not many people have heard about in the Ukrainian context – the metal scene. Our interviewer Bohdan Nahaylo talks to Spanish photographer Ester Segarra, and Kyiv gallerista Myroslava Hartmond joins in the conversation. That will be a little further on, but first of all, this week’s news.
Nahaylo: Hello and welcome to our new edition of Ukraine Calling from Hromadske Radio and to our in-depth discussion. This week, a subject not so commonly heard of on our programs, but very interesting all the same. Delighted to have as my guest Ester Segarra, a Spanish photographer, who excels in photographing the icons and idols and emblems of the metal world. She’ll explain what that is. And we’re not talking about gold. Ester, welcome to the program!
Segarra: Thank you!
Nahaylo: Now let me just say at the outset, that Ester is probably the world’s best known photographer of the metal music scene. And I understand you’re Spanish.
Segarra: I am, from Barcelona.
Nahaylo: And you’ve exhibited all over the world.
Segarra: I have been based in London for the last twenty years where I started my career as a photographer, specializing in the most extreme part of metal. And that’s taken me to work all over the world, and to exhibit all over the world. Norway, Holland, and now here.
Nahaylo: Why here? Why Ukraine? This is no doubt what our listeners are asking.
Segarra: I am here invited by Myroslava Hartmond, from Tryptich Gallery, where she curated a show called Idols, in conjunction with two Ukrainian artists, a painter and a sculptor, Ihor Hrechanyk and Nikita Tsoi – I’m not that good at Ukrainian yet – so my pictures have joined their works and together give a sense of what metal aesthetics and energy are about.
Nahaylo: So you and Myroslava Hartmond’s Triptych Gallery are helping to place Ukrainian avant-garde contemporary music-related culture into the mainstream.
Segarra: You could say that. Yes. It’s a very unique exhibition, because, normally, when people think about metal, they think about the music. But there is a lot more to the music. It is a lifestyle, it is an energy and the fact that both the artists and myself are influenced and work within metal one way or another, as the listeners find, and our work is very much connected to the music, and that makes it a very unique exhibition.
Nahaylo: We’ll mention the other artists. Their works, Nikita Tsoi and Ihor Hrechanyk, the sculptor. But first, tell me why was the Norwegian Ambassador opening it? It had almost the semblance of a diplomatic event.
Segarra: Within extreme metal, Norway black metal accounts for a huge part. It is Norway’s biggest musical export. So the Norwegian Embassy have a role of always sponsoring and promoting Norwegian culture at whatever level. They do not discriminate as to what kind of genre of music it is. And black metal is a genre that it would help to sponsor and get it to a wider audience. Any event that will help to give a better understanding of the genre. And there are a lot of Norwegian musicians featured in the exhibition, and that’s why the Norwegian Embassy kindly decided to sponsor the show.
Nahaylo: Well I was very struck by the fact that the Norwegian Ambassador not only opened it, but he spoke in Ukrainian and he made everyone feel impressed by him and his broad cultural horizons, and the abilities that he has. Now tell me, looking at Ukraine, as someone who is here for the first time, I understand…yes? Is Ukraine known on the music scene at all? On the contemporary music scene?
Segarra: Yes there is some awareness of Ukraine in this sense – it is not maybe the main focus in on the music scene in Ukraine – but extreme metal and metal is a genre that is found worldwide. Even in Iraq you find extreme metal, and Ukraine is no exception. Probably the most known band outside Ukraine is Druid, which are signed to Season of Mist, which is the same label that released my book. But I found, with a lot of people attending this show, how healthy the metal scene is here in Kyiv. And I got to know some other bands through some of the attendees.
Nahaylo: Tell us a little bit about your first impressions from meeting… Lets talk about musicians, and then we can talk about the other artists. Are you on the same wavelength with them? Have they been exposed to the currents in development on the metal scene in the outside world? Or do they reflect somehow more traditional, I don’t mean ethnic, ethnographic, but traditional forms of metal that have developed [or been copied] in Ukraine?
Segarra: Metal is a genre has a universal language, but at the same time is very inclusive of local particularities. And you will find a lot of metal bands that will include native instruments or native melodies. Because at the end of the day, as a musical expression, you will channel everything that is part of you into it, and that includes your nationality. But within a universal language, which will make it appealing to someone from completely the other side of the world.
Nahaylo: Do Ukrainian bands also perform outside their country, at festivals and concerts?
Segarra: Not that much, not that much. Druid in particular, they never do. Within the underground, metal and more extreme metal, there is a lot of “within” attitude, wherein you will express your music, but it does not mean you will go and perform elsewhere, or you will travel.
Nahaylo: We had a band here that’s been around since the late 80s, that was, I think, for most people associated with heavy metal in the Ukrainian context, but more I suppose Gothic metal – its called Komu Vnyz. With it, the dark black side always portrayed. But they’ve kept very close to national themes, even the poetry of Taras Shevchenko, the national poet, and others. So they’ve managed to combine the very modern, the cutting edge, with local, shall we say, icons. And you in your work, how did you start? Were you influenced by something specifically in Catalonia, in Barcelona, or was it in response to global trends?
Segarra: As a teenager I was extremely rebellious and always attracted to the dark side, to the devil’s music fromdifferent sides, raniging from punk.
Nahaylo: Devil’s music? You mean jazz?
Segarra: Yes (laughing).
Nahaylo: As it used to be known…
Segarra: That’s been musically and culturally present everywhere. The Devil’s advocate and the idea of adversary. Always opposed to what you’re supposed to say and do. That led me to rock and metal and to the darker side of it. My first encounter with extreme music was in very small club in London. I walked in and it was covered in smog, was pitch black. People were wearing spikes and hoods, and it looked like the most dangerous place in the world. And I thought, “I’ve found home”.
Nahaylo: That’s very interesting. But did you feel at home during the last few days in Ukraine?
Segarra: Yes, very much. Probably because of my host. She has been taking me around and explaining me things about Ukraine. She took me to different sites.
Nahaylo: She has a dark side, too, she told me (laughs).
Segarra: Yes, I would leave it to her to reveal.
Nahaylo: Myroslava (Harmond), you have been on this program before. I was at the exhibition and was very impressed. Were you pleased with the attendance and interest?
Hartmond: I was very pleased. Just very quickly, yes, I am a metal fan. I grew up reading magazines where Siggara’s photos were featured. For me on a personal level this is a “wow” moment. Also on a professional level I am extremely pleased to show in a world famous extreme metal music photographer alongside Ukrainian artists who are both emerging –Nikita Tsoi is at the beginning of his carreer and Ihor Hrechanyk, who already on the Olympus of Ukrainian art.
Nahaylo: Yes, he was very impressive. Tell me more about the artists themselves, their understanding of what they do. For example, Ihor. The sculptures seem to be related to metal, but then perhaps no traditional metal. They are more suggestive of it.
Hartmond: They are metal in material (smiles).
Segarra: When I came across his work I was really amazed how much he is inspired by metal themes in the titles and structure… When I met the artist he confirmed the feeling that I had from his sculptures.
Nahaylo: We are talking about Ihor Hrechanyk.
Nahaylo: What did you find you had in common? And what did you find that was not mutually understood from brief or longer discussions you had with such artists over a few days in Kyiv?
Segarra: We all love metal. That was one thing that came clear. You can see it in our work. Even in Nikita’s paintings you can see anger and tension that metal music generates or comes from. There is always tension. It’s not an easy music to listen to.
Nahaylo: I would say from a subjective point of view that they are are still more subdued, restained in expression than you are. You are very forthright…
Segarra: Oh, really?
Nahaylo: The exhibition opened was just an eve of Halloween and I was very struck by that image in the church of hooded priests, monks…
Segarra: Ghosts…Ghost is a Swedish band.
Nahaylo: Ahhh. But a very powerful image. I do not know how that would fare today in a cultural magazine in Ukraine because we have a lot of current issues linked to religion and traditional values. Perhaps for the more underground public, it would be considered appropriate. Maybe, many people would be shocked by it.
Segarra: I hope so, that they would be shocked. I come from Spain, a country where the role of Church is big and has been very oppressive.
Nahaylo: And you had the Franco regime…
Seggara: Exactly. My upbringing was very oppressive in many ways. For me the idea of putting ghosts [ghouls]in that picture set in a church s very much based on the way the Church uses to spread its message. Instead of expressing the message of God, they propagate the message of Satan. To me putting those together is to say that without God you do not have a Satan, and when there is no Satan, you do not have God. In a way it is brings all thing together in a one unity. It’s two sides of the same coin.
Nahaylo: Interesting angle, I suppose. Food for thought, should we say. Let’s leave it at that. Did anybody come up at the exhibition and say, “We are not ready for this yet”?
Segarra: No, everyone said how much they loved the pictures. There were even metal fans. I think people were really open and interested and were really taken by the intensity of it. Even people that you would consider more mainstream were very complimentary about the work.
Nahaylo: I am talking to Ester Segarra, a famous metal photographer, who came to Kyuv for the opening of an exhibition of two Ukrainian artists at Triptych art gallery here in Kyiv just on the eve of Halloween. But the exhibition will go on for a while longer, so there is an opportunity to see it. In many ways it is the first one of its kind in Ukraine. And my next question is, given that you have just spoken about metal as a form reaction against, resistance to, oppressive conditions and institutions. I wonder why we had not more of it in Ukraine. We went through the communist period, we had dissidents, but we are fairly tame and subdued on the musical photography scene. How would you explain that? Is it a cultural thing, a regional thing?
Segarra: I’m not sure. I think even though it is not easy in certain counties for metal-heads, for people to come across metal in the first place, and even when they do, they might feel very alone because it is not a popular genre, so to have access to the music can be difficult.
Nahaylo: Can I interrupt you? Because people of all ages listen to this, and I, myself, just missed out on heavy metal and was born earlier, and relate to more “traditional” music of my era, like Pink Floyd and the Beatles.
Segarra: Ah, I love Pink Floyd.
Nahaylo: Well, someone had to start things moving. I just want to quote what I found on Wikipedia just to put things into perspective for our listeners. Heavy metal: “a genre of rock music that includes a group of related styles that are intense, virtuosic and powerful. Driven by the aggressive sounds of the distorted electric guitar, heavy metal is arguably the most commercially successful genre of rock music.” So is that why you went for it?
Segarra: No, I mean, yes, it’s been a bit more successful, but it’s also the most stable genre of music. We metal-heads are committed – you don’t just listen to metal for a few years and then move on to another genre – if you are into metal, you are into metal for life.
Nahaylo: I guess the next question is about metal being a heavily male-dominated environment and business, and yet, you as a photographer, a woman, have made it to the Olympus of metal photography. Has it been easy to assert yourself through your talent? Were you accepted originally, or maybe not?
Segarra: It’s difficult to know, how to compare, how things would have been if I wasn’t a woman, because I am a woman in everything that I do and how I relate to the world. I don’t know if with my talents if I would have been embraced more, if otherwise. I’ve always been aware of peoples’ expectations as a woman, and I like to challenge that, so I don’t take a victim attitude of “Oh I don’t think I’m good enough.” I approach it with: “Oh, you think you are smart? Maybe I am going to try to outsmart you,” and “You think you’re tough? Well, maybe I am going to show you that I am tough too.”
Nahaylo: We have had a few very strong examples in recent years of women’s groups who have become protestors for all sort of causes – I would say largely for the proper causes – and who have been very active, including baring their bodies abroad, in front of presidents, and whatnot. You’re probably aware of them, we have Pussy Riot in Russia and we have the Ukrainian groups that have been active and still remain active. Are they somebody that attracted your attention and support? Did you identify with them in some ways?
Segarra: Yes, I identify with any cause that is rebellious and protesting, and taking whatever steps that are needed for this end. I am also in favour of exposing the female body because it is something that has been repressed, and it has been considered that we can’t show the female body. Why not? The male body is being shown, why not the female? And if it is more dangerous than the male body, then we should ask ourselves why this is so.
Nahaylo: I would suggest humbly that perhaps the display of the female body has become more commercialized than the male body. Showing the male body in certain quarters is acceptable and encouraged, but, should we say for the mainstream, it’s still somehow not balanced out.
Segarra: Yes, it’s is true that it has been used in a very commercial way and maybe it is sort of out of context.
Nahaylo: We are beginning to wind up now. From your observations in Ukraine, what do you see as encouraging and things that could be better? In your spheres, that is: photography, the arts, the general understanding of these issues and approaches, openness to the world?
Sagarra: I was surprised how much commitment and passion there is, I mean with the people that I’ve met, for their music and their art, and their commitment to it, and that was very encouraging to see. On the other hand, there is…you cannot help to sense a certain isolation of Ukraine in relation to the rest of the world. It’s almost like an invisible barrier around it, which makes me wonder, regardless of all the passion, and regardless of all the commitment, to what extent you are able to reach beyond their own country.
Nahaylo: Ester, when you were travelling here, when you got an invitation to exhibit, were you a bit apprehensive? Were you confident that you were going to a part of Europe?
Segarra: First I was like, oh yeah, I’ll go to Kyiv and I’ll to Ukraine and then, yeah, it’s kind of, somehow…
Nahaylo: Something different?
Sagarra: Different, but also kind of familiar. I mean I, you knew it was Ukraine; I had heard very much about the country. But as I was coming here I actually realised that I didn’t know that much about it at all. That I know a lot more about other European countries, and I can relate to them, and realised I was quite ignorant about Ukraine.
Nahaylo: Well, there was a certain gentleman called Picasso who spent some time in Barcelona who had a Ukrainian wife. Did you know that?
Segarra: I didn’t know that!
Nahaylo: Ah, you see, there we have to return to some roots. People don’t know this, and I think that’s one of the tragedies, that Ukraine was cut off from the rest of Europe for so long, and is scrambling to get back into the mainfold, as it were. So I think your visit here and artists of your calibre help us to catch up, and make up for lost time. My last question, I always ask, and Myroslava knows, any parting thoughts, wishes that you want to share with the audience? It can be an impression, it can be a wish, it can be just a sentiment.
Segarra: Well I hope that anyone who feels that heavy metal music is for them, that they find their way to it; it’s a wonderful genre. It’s incredibly empowering. I not only think it’s great but that it’s something that would fit very well within Ukrainian society. And also, I hope that Ukrainian society never abandons their more traditional art, because it’s incredibly rich, it’s incredibly colourful, it’s incredibly powerful. And I hope that the more sort of stark, bare, oppressive structures that I found in Kyiv don’t crush the Ukrainian –
Nahaylo: Spirit or…
Segarra: Spirit and soul, yeah.
Segarra: Because I think it’s very rich and I think it’s very interesting, and the world needs more of that.
Nahaylo: Well thank you for those very encouraging words. I’ve been talking to Ester Sagarra, world famous photographer, and not only, she’s into music and making very interesting clips, and I encourage you to have a look at her clips on Youtube, and get to know more about the strength of her spirit. Thank you so much for joining us.
Segarra: Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.
Nahaylo: And thank you, Myroslava, for joining us also.
Hartmond: Thank you.
Death of Activist
Kateryna Handzyuk, a Ukrainian activist, has died three months after she was injured in an acid attack. Handziuk, who was an adviser to the mayor of Kherson and a critic of local police, sustained severe burns to more than a third of her body. She had been sprayed with a litre of sulphuric acid outside her home in the southeastern city of Kherson. She had spent her last months in treatment for her injuries in a hospital in Kiev, where she underwent 11 operations.
From her hospital bed, covered in burns, Handziuk had recently called on the government to start a probe into the increasing number of attacks on activists. Local and international human rights groups have recorded more than 55 unsolved attacks on activists – including on Handziuk – since the start of 2017.
Tomos for Ukraine
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch signed an accord that paves the way for the recognition of an independent Ukrainian church. They signed the agreement, known as a Tomos, setting out the steps needed to formalize the recognition of the Ukrainian Church’s independence.
On October 11, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I had agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Moscow Patriarchate.
Merkel in Kyiv
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited Ukraine. Speaking after talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Merkel said Germany would support extending the European Union’ s restrictions against Russia, over its support for rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Merkel cited the lack of progress in fulfilling a 2015 peace deal.
Russia imposed financial sanctions Thursday against 322 Ukrainians and 68 companies linked to high-profile politicians or members of the country’s business elite. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Deputy Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, former Prime Minister Arseniy Tatsenyuk, Members of parliament and far-right groups were included in the sanctions. In their comments, almost all of them compared the Russian sanctions to receiving an award.
Sakharov Prize for Sentsov
The European Union awarded its top Human Rights prize to Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker imprisoned in Russia accused of plotting acts of terrorism, calling him a symbol of all political prisoners being held there. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, announced the decision in Strasbourg, France, and said that Sentsov was awarded the Sakharov Prize «because of his courage, and his determination.»
Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2015 for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, charges he denies. The 42-year-old director staged a hunger strike for 144 days to protest the incarceration of dozens of Ukrainians in Russia. He ended it earlier this month, after being faced with the prospect of being force-fed.
New OSCE Head of Mission
Mark Etherington is replacing Alexander Hug, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE’s) Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. Etherington has been in Ukraine since 2014, when the OSCE’s monitoring mission there began. Unlike his predecessor, Etherington has more practical military experience and experience in resolving conflicts in hot-spots.
A 20-year-old student of Ternopil National Technical University, Tamara Voshchylo, developed a glove which facilitates the communication with people who have speech and hearing impairments. The inventor spent only UAH 200 (which is about $US7) for the first prototype. Then her teacher Andrii Nedoshytko created an app to make the glove work.
Tetiana Vlasova is now the lead vocalist of a new group called Vlasna. They recently released a song called Kazka, which means story or tale. It’s like a lullaby for adults. Enjoy!
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Next week we’ll be back with more commentary on events in Ukraine with interview host Bohdan Nahaylo. We would be happy to receive any feedback from you. Write to us at: [email protected]. This is Oksana Smerechuk in Kyiv. Thanks so much for listening.
Interview transcribed by Larysa Iavorenko, Nykole King, Oksana Smerechuk and Caitilin O’Hare. Music by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineer Andriy Izdryk. E-mail distribution Ilona Sviezhentseva. Web support Kyrylo Loukerenko.