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Jewels in My Hand: Photo Paintings Transcending Identity, Place, Time and Form

Artist Blog by Lesia Maruschak

The centre piece of Poems of Our Children is a portrait collection of children impacted by the 1932-1933 Soviet Ukraine famine-genocide, Canada’s 1914-1920 First National Internment Program, and Russia’s 2022 unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In dealing with atrocities where individuals often cannot be identified, I explore the power of art to transcend individual identity, time, place and even form. These representations are meant to function as victims and witnesses of individual and collective trauma.

In making these portraits, I volleyed between digital and analogue processes, photography and painting, modern-day German photographic paper and long-expired silver gelatin photographic papers from Soviet Ukraine. This approach to making - which depended on experimentation, reinterpretation, and repetition - allowed me to explore the space between the elusiveness of memory and the tangibility of the historical artefact and its transformation. Throughout my research, conversations with experts like Lawrence Cook, the Head of Photography at the National Gallery of Canada, prevailed.

The portrait collection began with historical source images selected from holdings at the National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide (Kyiv) and the personal archives of Canadian researcher/cinematographer Yurij Luhovy. The images of children impacted by the current war in Ukraine were derived from an open-source video of children from Mariupol Ukraine, authenticated by my researcher in Ukraine.

The selected archival and open-source digital files were carefully studied and twelve children were selected for the portrait collection. Their faces, often no larger than a very small coin, were the starting point in my process, one driven by chance and experimentation.

More on that tomorrow!