How a Kyiv-based artist imagined her nation’s invaders and the mystery that surrounded them.
“Who are the little green men?” This question was first asked by governments and news media when, in early 2014, masked soldiers in unmarked uniforms surreptitiously invaded Ukraine and seized strategic locations in the region of Crimea. The answer, of course, turned out to be Russian special forces who, to this day, continue to fight in the Eastern section of the country. The little green men—and the initial mystery surrounding their identities—are the subject of Ukrainian multimedia artist Lada Nakonechna’s diptych, Uniform Image 1 and Uniform Image 2.
Presented as two pieces of an enormous puzzle, the unidentified life-size figures were lifted by Nakonechna from news and social media platforms that deluged viewers with images of soldiers. Ukrainians were anxious to understand their country’s crisis. Who was who, what was real, and what was propaganda?
Nakonechna’s concern is a universal one. Mistrustful of images, she thinks about the ways we obtain and hold onto information and knowledge, especially in conflict zones where violence is inflected by overloaded media, contested facts, and unstable historical memories.
I wrote a version of the text above two years ago as I was thinking about acquiring these drawings for our collection. They are beautifully hand-colored digital prints, but I wasn’t sure how Lada transferred the images from a digital file to paper. So I wrote to her and asked for an explanation. Her response was a technical one because my question was a technical one. I told her I loved the drawings. She expressed her gratitude for my interest.
Now in March of 2022, I wish I had asked her something more: are you afraid of another attack? For the future of your country? For the safety and freedom of your friends and family?
Louis Marchesano is The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. He has worked on prints and drawings from the fifteenth century to the present. For his contributions to the history of early-modern French printmaking, Louis was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. In 2021, he received the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship for Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics.