As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington.
Not a flattering exhibit, it’s rendered in a unique medium that its Ukrainian creator, Daria Marchenko, calls not only a work of art, but a political statement.
"The Faces of War" ironically consists of only one picture — a portrait of Vladimir Putin made up of some 5,000 empty cartridge casings from the front lines in eastern Ukraine, where government forces battled Russian-backed separatists.
Marchenko says she got the idea when her boyfriend brought her first shell — from the EuroMaidan protests in Kyiv. Then, she says, everything happened by itself.
"When I started this project, I realized that Ukraine’s losses in the war are getting bigger and bigger. I also had the feeling that only we Ukrainians can feel this, and people from all around the world don’t have the same understanding," said Marchenko. "The quantity of the grief around me was a sign that I have to use a lot of shells."
The exhibition’s organizers also laid razor wire on the floor in front of the portrait, adding additional symbolism.
"We did this project in order to show every Ukrainian and every American, or the person who works in Congress, that Putin brings discomfort into your life," said exhibition organizer Oleksiy Syvak. "He came to your house and he will not go away easily."
Since first publicly showing the project, Marchenko has gotten feedback from around the world, including messages from Algeria, the Netherlands, Syria, and Russia. While most were positive, even seemingly supportive letters from Russia were threats.
"The energy of this project is very dark," said Marchenko. "I mean, you cannot be cheerful while doing projects like that. But I was not able to stop it either. This is my sign of respect for all of those Ukrainian soldiers, thanks to whom I still live in the capital of my country, Kyiv, without the war."
As lighting in the exhibit changes, Putin's expression seems to change as well — from excited to frightened and even demonic. Marchenko says she hopes Putin will hear about the exhibition... and perhaps change his behavior too.
"I think there is no dictator in the world who will tell you honestly what kind of thoughts he has when he is alone in the cold night, but I believe they can feel what kind of future is waiting for them," said Marchenko.
"The Faces of War" is currently negotiating additional showings at museums in Italy, Britain and even India.