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.