The Great Refusalby Jay Senetchko

Vancouver-based artist Jay Senetchko needed to find a way to help Ukrainians and with an upcoming show, he found the way to do it. When the war began in Ukraine, Senetchko knew that he would donate 50% of the proceeds from his latest exhibition to help Ukrainians. He says that donating was "never really a question of decision, it was a necessity." The exhibit, called The Great Refusal, will run from May 16 - June 17 at the Pendulum Gallery.

For the past decade Senetchko’s work has reflected the issues his family faced around Ukraine and immigration and this series continues that exploration. Senetchko explains that "The Great Refusal means to question the nature of social stability, expose its historical and contemporary costs, and reveal how a viewing audience may be unaware of their tacit engagement in such a system.” 

Senetchko will not only be donating 50% of the proceeds from this exhibit to help Ukrainians – but the exhibition itself is set up so that you can donate in whatever way feels best for you. From QR codes that take you directly to charities to a good old-fashioned cash jar – now you can support local art and help Ukraine all at once. 

The Great Refusal is presented in the format of traditional Christian altarpieces (think Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights). But rather than being religious in nature, the work's message reflects the crisis in Ukraine: how stability and violence impact isolated individuals. In the altarpieces, images of stability are presented as scenes of leisure that highlight the sharing of food (dinner parties, family picnics). Senetchko explains, “there is social stability necessary to share food in a comfortable and stable environment.”  These stable, food-sharing images are seen on the exterior wings of the altarpieces. This means when the altarpiece is closed, all you see is peace.

The Great Refusalby Jay Senetchko

When the altarpiece is opened (it’s on a motorized timer created by Thomas Nugent) scenes of civil unrest and violence take centre stage. The violent centrepiece is flanked by two isolated individuals – the same ones who were previously shown in the exterior scenes of stability. This is meant to show that in order for there to be stability, there are people who are affected negatively. Senetchko explains that, “the historical reality of achieving social stability is that it is always at the expense of some other group of people. There is an inherent violence implicit in social stability – not only to attain it, but to maintain it.”

Senetchko says his artistic process began with the creation of collages that speak to “the relationship between violence and social stability and comfort.” He explains that he used four main sources of imagery and inspiration for The Great Refusal: family photos, Alberta archival photographs of Canandian-Ukranian immigration, his grandmother’s collection of Time Life Magazines (c. 1950-1960) and documentary photographs from the current war between Ukraine and Russia. These collages will also be on display at the exhibit, so that you can see the direct connection between historical imagery and Senetchko’s final work. 

The Great RefusalJay Senetchko

The exhibit will take place at The Pendulum Gallery May 16-June 17 with a public reception on June 2. The price per painting is $50,0000 and 50% of all proceeds will be donated to an association in help of Ukraine. 

Senetchko highlights that although this exhibit is showcasing his art, this is not a solo-process. From Thomas Nugent’s implementation of the motorized timer to Chad Krowchuk’s educational panels (that will presented alongside the collages) and 3D modeling of the exhibition space and Pennylane Shen’s career support – The Great Refusal as an exhibition is reflective of community effort. Senetchko says that all of these people are “directly responsible for all of this being successful.”