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Performance art has often been used as a way to comment on social issues. And with a war raging in Ukraine, a group of New York artists made their voices heard at one of the city's foremost museums. On Saturday, March 5, they entered the Guggenheim during peak visiting hours and released 350 paper planes from the top of the museum's rotunda. This action was a show of support for a NATO-backed no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Printed on the planes was a call for the public to request that President Biden declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine. The flyer made the group's position clear, stating that “this is no longer a local conflict. Act now to save the world.” According to Hyperallergic, the guerilla group was organized by artists Anton Varga, Bea Fremderman, V Pan, and Volk Lika, among others. Two group members were asked to leave their bags of flyers behind to enter the museum and so were prevented from taking part in the action.
Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been calling on NATO to help protect his country's skies and put an end to the ceaseless bombing by the Russians, which has been killing civilians. So far, the Western military alliance has declined for the fear of becoming dragged into active warfare with Russia.
In a statement to Hyperallergic, the artists gave the context behind their performance. “We want to draw attention to the Russian war in Ukraine. The military brutality of this war waged by Vladimir Putin affects Ukraine, all of Europe, and ultimately every country that is continuously decimated by Putin’s violence. We believe that the importance of asking NATO to close the sky, establish a No-Fly Zone and humanitarian airspace, to prevent a potential worldwide nuclear catastrophe, is urgent and critical.”
The text on the paper planes asked those in the museum to imagine how they would feel if the planes were made of steel instead of paper; and how they would feel if there were bombs being dropped overhead. There was also a QR code that people could scan to see links with information on how to support Ukraine.
For Betty Roytburd, a Ukrainian-born artist based in New York, participating in the performance was important. Though she realizes that many feel setting a no-fly zone would trigger a third world war, she asked people to consider a different perspective.
“A third world war could start if we don’t do anything to stop Putin. This war already affects the entire world,” she said. “Russia has taken over two nuclear plants, one of them is the largest in Europe. This concerns the entire planet. Not giving Ukraine a no-fly zone is basically telling Putin that he can keep going.”
A group of artists dropped 350 paper planes from the Guggenheim's rotunda as a call for a Ukraine no-fly zone.
The planes were printed with a message to get the public thinking.