Olha Rapai-Markish

Inventory of the archive

Olha Rapai-Markish (1929–2012) was an artist and ceramic sculptor.

Olha Rapai was born in Kharkiv in 1929 to a family of the writer Peretz Markish  and the translator Zinaida Yoffe. Her father was sentenced to death in the concocted “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee case” in 1952. Olha Rapai was also targeted by Stalinist repressions. Right after her father’s execution, she was arrested, imprisoned and then exiled to the village of Dolgii Most in Krasnoyarsk Krai. In 1954, Olha Rapai was exonerated. She graduated from Kyiv Art Institute in 1956 and worked at Kyiv Experimental Ceramic Art Factory. 

During her life, the artist created more than 5,000 sculptures, panels, reliefs, and vases. Olha Rapai is well known primarily for her works of monumental decorative architecture in Kyiv. Especially remarkable is her relief composition decorating the House of Trade (1967), the interiors of the Republican Children’s Library (1980), of the Bohomolets Institute of Physiology (1982), of Mykola Kholodnyi Botanic Institute (1984), of the House of Art Collectives on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard (1987), and of the Vzuttia (Shoewear) Store in Podil (1989). A significant place in her artistic legacy belongs to sculptural works, which form biblical, mythological, theatrical, circus, and folklore cycles. 

The artist spent her final years  in Israel. She died in 2012 and was buried in Tel Aviv.

The Center for Studies in History and Culture of East European Jewry holds unique materials from Olha Rapai’s personal archive: letters, photos, documents, preparatory materials (overall more than 3,000 units of storage) as well as sculptural works, panels, and sketches (some of them need restoration). 

Olha Rapai’s works are distinct for their particular magic appeal. They attract viewers from the first sight, immersing them into an incredible world, which is bright and joyful, often naively fancy, or sometimes contemplative and philosophical. Unfortunately, a part of Rapai’s artistic legacy is lost. However, there is a great possibility that it has been preserved at least in slides, photo negatives, or photographs such as those present in the Center’s collection. Some photos and slides are signed by the sculptor, yet quite a lot of images require a thorough study to identify the objects depicted on them and create a detailed illustrated catalogue of Olha Rapai’s works. The first step in this direction has already been taken in 2007, when Dukh i Litera Publishing House issued the album Olha Rapai-Markish: Life and Art

Art historians and biographers of the artist would be also interested in the collection of printed materials about her works, catalogues, posters, visitors’ books from exhibitions, personal documents as well as papers related to Olha Rapai’s arrest, exile, revision, and cancellation of her case due to the absence of corpus delicti. 

Literary scholars and historians of Stalinist repressions may be interested in the materials related to the artist’s father, the Yiddish writer Peretz Markish. Particularly noteworthy are Olha Rapai’s letter to the Security Minister of the Russian Federation Viktor Barannykov requesting permission to get familiar with her father’s criminal record, and handwritten materials form Peretz Markish’s case from the former KGB archive.

The Center holds Olha Rapai’s photo archive (albums with the photographs of the artist and her family). Quite a lot of images require the identification of persons in them.

Researchers are suggested to pay special attention to Olha Rapai’s correspondence (more than 220 letters of 1968–2010). Among them are letters the artist wrote to her daughter Kateryna Rapai and a letter to the members of Ukrainian Parliament. 

Among Olha Rapai’s permanent correspondents were mostly her relatives: Kateryna Rapai (daughter), Shimon Markish (brother) and Ester Markish (stepmother). The archive also has multiple letters and postcards from her friends, acquaintances, institutions, and organizations (Israeli Embassy, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, etc.). The letter collection contains valuable biographic information about the artist and completes a picture of cultural and artistic life in Kyiv in the 1970–2000s.