International creativity language

Kultura in Motion’s impact on communities in Ukraine, Tanzania, and elsewhere

Irina Lindqvist, born in Kharkiv, graduate of the Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn, has lived in Stockholm for a number of years. She majors in decorative art, using mostly metal. She emigrated to Sweden in the late 1990s, but has kept in touch with Ukraine and her Project Kultura in Motion, launched in 2010, is graphic proof. It includes education programs involving schoolchildren in Ukraine and Eastern Africa, museums, research centers, to mention but a few. KIM’s latest project took place in Ukraine when they staged workshop seminar entitled “Culture as Method for Change” at the Mykola Yaroshenko Art Museum in Poltava.

Below, KIM leader Irina Lindqvist shares her ideas concerning the diversity of identities and her quest for her own.


Project Kultura in Motion was founded by me and Joran from Sweden, then we were joined by Eva (she’d lived in France, later in London) and our Ukrainian friends. Our logo belongs to Irina Nikitina, a designer and artist in Kyiv. We formally registered our organization in 2013, but our first Project Men’s Health was launched in Kyiv, back in 2010. It was a photo exhibit featuring men using trainers at Hidropark. Our organization unites people varying in terms of education, ranging from management to art to languages. We have six to nine individuals who regularly contribute their themes. The total number of active members varies and we find independent experts who pass judgment on a given topic.


Some of the topics we broach are pressing, depending on the situation in a given society or politics, like in Ukraine and Sweden. We’re preparing a workshop seminar that will reflect the geopolitical situation. We’ll hear Ukrainian and Swedish ranking army officers. Our other projects have to do with culture, politics, and education. There’s something that unites them all: our quest for creativity. We’re looking for what we can contribute to other communities, and we keep learning, considering that each time it’s a different country or continent.


Project Creative Leadership for Youth was underway in Ukraine from 2011 until 2017. We made it in collaboration with the Swedish Sports Confederation. They received the project and we helped get it organized. There were workshop seminars with lecturers from Sweden and we looked for lecturers in Ukraine. We started in Luhansk and in six years we’d visited Kharkiv, Donetsk, Odesa, Lviv, Kyiv and suburbs, including Velyka Katerynivka. We tried to spread out, visiting small local schools, and I can’t remember how many we brought back to life. We invited local students to Sweden, there were joint youth projects with Stockholm that took place in Gotland.


With our Project Creative Leadership... we visited the schools we knew would welcome new practices. There were cases when we were told, “No, thanks, we’re not interested.” Several schools, including those in Kharkiv and Kyiv, told us they would allow entry if they knew in advance every word we’d say; if we said something wrong about the LGBT or family values, we’d be very sorry afterward. In those cases we simply couldn’t come to terms. Lviv was a pleasant exception from the rule. We were made welcome and they were willing to cooperate because they had cooperated with European organizations.



The workshop scenarios were in black and white, save that some lecturers would add something; there were issues a local public activist would want to cope with. The LGBT issue, in the first place. We discussed all the related problems and tried to figure out the local children’s attitude to the issue. Everyone involved in, or with, the project said the results were good. We would have continued, but for the refugee influx in Europe that cut short our funding, so we had to stop that project.


Tanzania proved a great experience. I’d say each our project was carried out by people who’d turn up at the right place and time. Eva’s friend, our team member, had worked for a [civic] organization in Norway that helped African countries. They would send volunteers to a certain part of Africa. She found herself in Tanzania, on that coffee plantation run by that Norwegian lady who had settled there some 15 years back and decided to change the experience of the next-door villages for the better by growing organic coffee beans. We knew little about her when traveling to Tanzania in 2013. We’d read something on the subject, but we realized what it was all about only after arriving at the plantation. A coffee bean bush takes at least nine months to grow and separate from the mother tree, then it can be planted elsewhere, and then it will yield fruit in about several years.

We found ourselves in a locality that looked more like a Hollywood Nevada Smith site. We met kids who knew nothing about crayons – and this considering that we were a short distance from Arusha, a more or less civilized city by Mt. Kilimanjaro. There were places where the tarmac would end, replaced by dirt roads that would turn into a mudbath during the rainy season. The populace occupied three to four square miles, yet each aborigine seemed to be happy living that way. They kept their residence area tidy, but they had to keep up the daily struggle for drinking water and their kids had to make do with a single pad per capita at school, and they hadn’t seen a single crayon or paint before we arrived.


While in Tanzania, we wanted to see the effect of that sole plantation, started by a Norwegian lady, on the two nearby villages. Both villages turned out to be inhabited by Christians, courtesy of the German missionaries way back. Tanzania is a mix of creeds, but mostly Christian thanks to the missionaries, and most people speak understandable English. Some locals had never visited the “big cities.” The school we visited arranged for a bus ride to the local airport, so the kids could see it and discuss their impressions on the ride back. We talked to some of the locals, varying in age, in order to learn their worldviews.

Lots of coffee and banana plantations around, and a small local business founded by a single person, with a limited budget, that would produce a tangible effect on the entire community. This business made them turn quantity into quality when they started growing organic coffee beans, with each bush yielding a different kind of fruit, earning them much more money.


While in Tanzania, we visited schools in two Christian villages. One was an elementary school and the other one looked more like a college. We held art workshop seminars in both, then we took children’s paintings and tried to establish contact with a Muslim school in Zanzibar. They seemed to welcome our initiative, but there was no response. We couldn’t establish contact between schools professing different religions.


We’d spent quite some time looking for a topic before embarking on a project involving Ukrainian museums. Finally, we selected museums whose stock and orientation answered today’s and future missions – I mean their impact on various civic categories. We also used our experience when operating in Belarus and Sweden.

We wanted to compare the Ukrainian museums’ experience to that of their British and Swedish counterparts, to the extent we could study that experience on site. It is true that the Swedish museums have a great deal of impact on the general public. They are visited by adults and children, for education and entertainment purposes. Almost every museum offers a series of lectures for various age groups. Now the big issue in Sweden is whether such museums should be used as guidelines, telling people what is right and wrong, drawing the line between true history and the way it was taught in the Soviet Union, and the way it is being taught in North Korea.

Our project in Ukraine will continue. We’ve made arrangements with the Swedish Institute. We’ll have to submit a feasibility study report in November-December, then they will make the final decision in January. If Belarus, Sweden, and Ukraine joined the project in spring, we’d start looking for partners in Armenia and, possibly, in Georgia, in order to ensure a cross of cultures.


There is the notion of Nordic countries, meaning Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Greenland, and Iceland. We keep in touch with the University of Helsinki, with a team of researchers who specialize in climate change and have state-of-the-art equipment, including towering climate stations that are placed in certain localities and do the job of large teams. Helsinki researchers have sold several such stations to the United States. Similar stations are in China, totaling some 20 across the world.

What we have in mind is a research and culture project, aimed at combining art with science. We want to combine it with similar projects in several countries. We’re especially interested in Iceland and Greenland. These countries are geographically very dependent on climate change, in the first place. For example, Denmark will become one of Europe’s biggest countries – if and when the snow melts in Greenland. In that case, the living conditions in Iceland and Greenland would essentially change in several years. We rely on scientists and their planned research to figure out what cycles there are in nature and how man affects the environment. The next step will be to find a way to link this to creativity – the way the artist sees man’s influence on the climate.


When they ask me to tell about myself, I reply that I’m from Ukraine, that I lived in Kharkiv for 20 years and then went to Tallinn to enroll in an institution of higher education. I stayed there until 1996 and then I flew to Sweden. I’d spent 12 years in Estonia and the experience was such that I found it hard to return to Ukraine. I’d gone to Estonia because the local school of art was very different from any counterparts, anywhere under the Soviets. There was a degree of true freedom there. No one said or did anything anti-Soviet, but its professors could undergo practical training in Europe – in Finland, what was then Czechoslovakia, and even in Italy. There were no such professors in Kharkiv.

I spent two years in the south of Spain and two years in Paris. When you stay somewhere for two years, you feel like a guest, but after five years you start feeling at home. I felt at home in Ukraine, then in Estonia, and later, in Sweden.


Learning the language of the country of residence has been important for me. When you learn a foreign language, it changes your mentality, you start thinking differently. Its logic changes your logic. Language isn’t only about words and transcription; it’s about the new kind of logic. You stay at a certain place long enough to learn the language – like I did when in Sweden – and then you begin to understand why people behave there the way they do.


Swedes tend to have curious ideas about Ukraine. Many don’t know the difference between Ukraine and Russia, who Stepan Bandera was, and so on. After the Euromaidan, my friends and I spent quite some time meeting with journalists, appearing on the radio, doing our best to tell them the truth about Ukraine. Now the situation seems to have settled. People have learned more about Ukraine, but all appear to stick to their previous views. Some may even tell you that there are fascists in Ukraine – and this after the screening of many documentaries and meetings with politicians. Swedes have also been active in this sphere, but we know that there’s lots of work still to be done. There is a clear line drawn here between those who feel for Russia and for Ukraine. Everything depends on the party line – and the kind of relationships between that party and Vladimir Putin. This topic is once again among the main ones on the political agenda.