The Motherland (2014)

A Portrait Art Project Featuring Ukrainian and Russian Mothers

Naked, sitting, frontal portraits of mothers. In his Portrait base Art project from 2014 Daniel Eisenhut went to Kyiv with a simple question; is there a difference between Mothers of different nationalities? By portraying Ukrainian and Russian Mothers naked, Daniel encourages us and his models to ask this question over and over again.

With this project, Eisenhut challenges our “ideas” about our identity and preconceptions of the cultural supremacy we usually carry with us. By showing us the unadulterated truth. In Our essence, we are all the same. But he does this not by forcing the spectators to accept his way of seeing things, but by asking them what they think are the differences.

I set with Daniel on a sunny day and asked him a few questions about the project:

Your 2014 first portrait base Art-project you called “Motherland”, why exactly?

Besides that, in the Art-Project, I focused on mothers’ portraits. The name comes from a Russian slogan from the second world war that basically goes “This is our motherland!” it comes to say: “This is it! There is no other place to go.”. It was something that I learned in my youth as a joke but stayed with me until I found a way to use it. 

Isn’t it harsh to use a fighting-moral-pushing slogan as a name for a project about Motherhood?

I can’t say that the project is about motherhood as such it’s more about the essence of humanity. Motherhood is in the way I see it the main pillar of our society. From today’s perspective, I think that the slogan from back then fits today even more. I have the feeling that today everything that is human is under some kind of attack, Motherhood is the last line of defense, “this is our motherland!” has a different meaning today but it’s not less urgent.

You went to Kyiv to paint Russian and Ukrainian Mothers just after the “Maidan-Uprise” and more or less during the start of the Donetsk war. How did you even get to do this project and how was your idea perceived there at the time?

These are two big questions. Starting the project was magically easy, two days after conceptualizing it during a coffee with a friend in Zurich. I called an old friend for another matter and mentioned the idea he just happened to host a group of Ukrainian women and said that if I want I can come and talk to them. I did and in less than two weeks I had Mothers who agreed to model, a studio, and a host in Kyiv.

As for how the project was perceived, I can’t really say, some mothers liked the ideas but the main feeling was more doubtful than hopeful if I can describe it like that. Most people involved were keener to show me the difference between the nations than to look for similarities. I had to show them the Portraits beside each other in order to show how my concept works.

You have to understand that I didn’t have a clue about the region in its contemporary state at the time. I knew some Russian (don’t anymore) and knew a lot of history and like most people my age in my head everything east of Berlin was one big Soviet country. What was reviled to me during my stay in Kyiv forced a total reboot of everything I thought I knew.  It was great.

How did “Motherland” influence the other Art-Projects you did after it?

More than anything it gave me a taste for more, it summoned and underlined how I want to do Art. The idea of using art as a tool to investigate and create my Art “on the field” so to say, was a very profound experience. It made me a better Artist; thanks to it I can serve my Tribe better now.

Interview about the philosophy behind the Art-Project, the interview was made prior to Daniels visit to Kyiv
Interview about the philosophy behind the Art-Project, the interview was made prior to Daniels visit to Kyiv