Ukrainian refugees have agreed to pose in front of the lens of photographer Olivier Roller, these portraits can be seen at the Marc Chagall museum in Nice.

Ukrainian refugees
Copyright Olivier Roller

Singular human destinies

During the winter of 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Olivier Roller welcomed young Ukrainian refugees to his home in Paris. From these meetings, tied in this tragic context, the photographer has created striking portraits. Taking the form of short videos, Olivier Roller’s images are frontal and uncluttered: bodies, faces, framed up close, deliver themselves to the lens of the photographer who slowly focuses on the gaze, fixed or distant, of these young women and men. Their voices which share their story, make their upset existences palpable: broken voices which, beyond words, carry cruel memories, doubt and sometimes the feeling of guilt; firm voices also that speak of their energy, their courage and their commitment to help their compatriots. This face-to-face, without filter, opens our eyes to singular human destinies that go through the trials of war. Their presence suddenly gives substance to this distant abstraction that is war perceived from a distance.

An ideal of fraternity

The testimonies, sometimes mixed with the voice of the artist, recount the uprooting of the native country, the agonizing journey, the precarious daily life, punctuated by uncertainty and the quest for means of survival, but also the thoughts monopolized by the nostalgia, concern for loved ones. Far from any misery, Olivier Roller’s gaze underlines the dignity and power of Ukrainian citizens whom violence and war have transformed, overnight, into refugees. Because of its humanity, Olivier Roller’s project clearly fits within the Marc Chagall National Museum. Throughout his life, Marc Chagall, who experienced persecutions, wars and the path of exile, himself recounted the violence of the 20th century in images. The painted cycle of the Biblical Message, which includes the story of the Exodus, attests to this and is at the origin of the museum, conceived by the artist as a place of peace and spirituality. Projected alongside the stained glass windows of Marc Chagall who wanted to create a house in which “young and old will come to seek an ideal of fraternity and love such as my colors and my lines have dreamed of”, these portraits also tell the hope for an end to the conflict.

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