Lesia Maruschak

On Genocide

In 1932-33 Soviet Ukraine, a genocide carried out by the Soviet Politburo led to the death of at least 3.9 million people. Known as the Holodomor (death by starvation), this atrocity has been largely effaced from history. In my ongoing project ON GENOCIDE which consists of three movements: ERASURE, Project MARIA, and SEEING RED I work to raise awareness.

ERASURE explores the cultural genocide that preceded the physical; the repression and destruction of the Ukrainian national identity. I reinterpreted portraits of Soviet Ukrainian citizens from my private archives: A soldier is partially decapitated, his eyes eradicated; a child’s portrait is inflicted with mold and corroded; a man’s face is peeled away. The act of reworking these images emulates the practice of removing and altering documents and re-writing history, acts of violence which continue to be a common practice of totalitarian regimes.

Project MARIA is a multimedia mobile memorial inspired by a vernacular photograph of a young girl, Maria F., who survived and currently resides in Canada, I invite the audience to engage with installations to create their own memories of the Holodomor. In ‘TRANSFIGURATION’ I manifest the testimonies of Holodomor survivors and the idea of someone starving to death. Manifesting the transparency and translucency that was captured in the testimonies was of paramount importance, making this series the most difficult to approach. Works from the ‘COUNTING’ series, include archival photos of the Holodomor marked with dots and lines to represent a counting tablet and the impossibility of knowing exactly how many died, while authentic Soviet-issued soldiers’ backpacks hanging from the wall, containing propaganda and other historic materials pointing to the tipping point between the perpetrators and the victims.

The third new series, ’SEEING RED,’ is an interplay among social science, photography, light, and performance, foregrounding a history which may tell us much about the future. A recent study on the Holodomor, examining Stalin’s correspondence reveals that, through language, a distinction can be made between large-scale violence and genocide, allowing for trends to be flagged and action taken pre-emptively. Using neon signs, I literally illuminate Stalin’s intent “envisioning a future without Ukrainians.” This act of bringing to light is counterbalanced with violence: Using archival photos of the genocide and polaroid captures of TV reportage of the ongoing violence at Ukraine’s eastern border, I cut apart dictionaries from 1933. By doing so, I commit a violation against the institutions of global power which filter history and fail to acknowledge the Holodomor. This destruction is balanced with reconstruction: Using egg tempera, I paint shapes to counter the certainty and legitimacy of the word with the fluency of painting. The works disrupt and disorient, providing a possibility of release from our ingrained systems of knowledge, power and politics.

About the Artist

Artist Website

Lesia Maruschak creates montages which are bound to paper, layered in space and activated as performance pieces through the reinterpretation of archival, photographic and painting conventions to explore their political-philosophical potential and her responsibility as an artist.

 Maruschak currently works and lives between Alvena and Ottawa. She holds a MA from the University of Saskatchewan, and a MBA from the University of Ottawa. She has received numerous awards including the Governor General of Canada’s Silver Medal, the Saskatchewan Nation Builder and the Ottawa Woman of Inspiration. She has exhibited widely; the 2022-2023 tour of her award-winning Project MARIA will result in her 18th solo exhibition in seven years. Her works are represented in the collections of The National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Thomas Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, Boston Athenaeum in Boston, City of Ottawa Art Collection in Ottawa, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University in Durham, Green Library-Special Collections at Stanford University in Stanford, Rare Books & Special Collections at the Library of Congress. in Washington, Butler Library-Special Collections at Columbia University in New York, among many others. Her book MARIA was shortlisted at Arles Prix de Livres and Athens Photobook Festival, and won the Grand Prix, Kyiv International Book Festival. Canada’s First World War Internment Recognition Council has commissioned her to produce books and films. She has lectured at The Warm Academy, FORMAT19 and Grain Projects and attended residencies at Maine Media and Pouch Cove Foundation. Maruschak is also the founder of the newly formed VYDNO Collective which explores and reclaims critical moments in history and gives voice to various lived experience. Maruschak is currently working on an in-situ hybrid installation SEEING RED, LVIV National Museum, 2023.