by Leah Quinn
“The art world pretends to be at the cutting edge of attitudes around all sorts of issues. But it’s always two or three steps behind society, and it’s deeply conservative in its thinking.”
London-born photographer Mark Neville has been documenting life and conflict in Ukraine since 2015. Now, with tensions at a boiling point between Russia and Nato, Neville wants to pull the world’s attention back to the people on the frontlines of this crisis.
Mark's latest work, ‘Stop Tanks with Books’, directs our gaze onto the lives of the people living on the frontlines of the Russian invasion.
He is sending out 750 complimentary copies to the book’s target audience: those members of the international community— politicians, celebrities, ambassadors, negotiators, and the media—who have it in their power to help Ukraine.
I spoke to Mark over a weekend in mid-February when Russia amassed 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and the White House has instructed American citizens to leave the country immediately as it fears a Russian invasion could start “at any time”.
That invasion, as we all know, is now in full swing, with huge convoys of tanks bearing down on the capital of Kyiv.
"People here have been living with war since 2014, when Russia invaded and illegally occupied parts of Donbas and then illegally annexed Crimea,” Mark explains.
He criticises Western media’s coverage of the invasion and their military response, saying that the problems that we’re seeing now are a result of the West’s complacency since 2014.
"Ukrainians are incredibly resilient and proud,” Mark says. ”They are used to living with the pressure of an invasion… and they will fight if the invasion escalates."
“The art world pretends to be at the cutting edge of attitudes around all sorts of issues,” Mark tells me, “But it’s always two or three steps behind society, and it’s deeply conservative in its thinking.”
The real impact comes through what he terms his “public art projects” which position people from “non-art demographics” as both his primary audience and the beneficiaries of his work.
It was through these projects that Mark began “to see a real and meaningful connection develop” between people and his work.
When he created his photo book ‘Battle Against Stigma’ in 2015, following a stint as a war artist in Helmand, Afghanistan which left him struggling with PTSD, he received thousands of emails from veterans and their families recognising their own struggles in Mark’s accounts.
The emails went into heart-wrenching detail about the mental health impact life in the war zone had had on people and their struggles to re-adjust to civilian life.