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Vyshyvani Kazky tell a tale of culture that needs to be preserved

May 11, 2022 | Canada, Featured, News

Installation view. Photos: Laura Findlay

Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

One of Canada’s main photography festivals, Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, is running the works of a Ukrainian Canadian artist, Ayla Dmyterko within its Core Program. The festival features Dmyterko’s exhibition, Vyshyvani Kazky, Embroidered Stories, which is running in the Zalucky Contemporary gallery in Toronto’s high-traffic Junction area until May 28.

Dmyterko noted that her exhibition bears parallels to Ukraine’s distant and not so distant past, as well as the country’s present. “My ancestors packed their lives to seek free land, to follow promises of utopic opulence. These false hopes were built on stolen Indigenous lands, something that was not imparted pre-arrival, yet settlers largely continued to be complicit in thereafter,” she said. This is what a series of digital photographs Future Projections, one part of Vyshyvani Kazky, is about. Dmyterko took old photographs of her ancestors, carefully archived by her mother, and projected the images onto the barns and farm houses that still stand today on her family’s farm, about two hours north of Regina, SK.

Ayla Dmyterko: Future Projections


The second part of the exhibition, Peasants Under Glass, has connotations to Ukraine’s and Canada’s past and present. The series of six photographs of embroidered Ukrainian dance costumes stifled beneath a sheet of glass responds to an eponymous Maclean’s Magazine article with the same title published in September, 1981. The article slandered the Veryovka Ukrainian dance group, which was touring across Canada that year, for the sake of critiquing the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Ayla Dmyterko: Peasants Under Glass

The article, which featured such expressions as “inauthenticity”, “constipated artistic process” and “nearly total lie”, resonated deeply with Dmyterko who was raised learning Ukrainian dance and often taught by former Soviet-era dancers.

It seems that the glass allegory used in the photos shows the beauty of Ukrainian embroidered costumes that the article refers to with such condescension as being artificially preserved and unnaturally portrayed. “The costumes … are so rich that the blouses take upward of two months to embroider”, said the author John Ayre. Ayre had hardly been to a Ukrainian home where these kinds of blouses would take generations of mothers and grandmothers months in the wintertime to embroider and leave inexplicable beauty for the future generations of grateful and sometimes ignorant observers.

The glass press in these photos also seems to signify the pressure on the young generations of Ukrainian Canadians to retain their culture and identity, whether the pressure comes from the previous generations or from their own consciousnesses. “Participating was not just about performing; it was about family, community and belonging“, said Dmyterko.

Solastalgic Soliloquy, the third part of the exhibition, continues the theme of culture preservation. In the video, Dmyterko performs Ukrainian traditional dance which displays generational slippage as her muscle memory fails and fragments. “There is a precarity, a quiet panic in the pressures of carrying culture forward”, she said.

Ayla Dmyterko in Solastalgic Soliloquy

And, finally, although the exhibition was organised long in advance of Russia’s current invasion into Ukraine, Vyshyvani Kazky, Embroidered Stories brings to mind the problem of preserving and carrying forward the Ukrainian culture in the light of the Russian invasion and atrocities perpetrated against the Ukrainian heritage by the aggressor.

A portion of all sales through this exhibition will be donated to Help Us Help #standwithukraine initiative. The initiative focuses on First Responder medical support (individual first aid kits and associated medical supplies); relocation support for the Help Us Help’s past and present program participants, including scholars, orphans and children with disabilities; and mental health supports for the victims of war.

Ayla Dmyterko is a Ukrainian Canadian artist currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. She was raised in Saskatchewan, on Treaty 4 land, the territories of the nêhiyawak (Cree), Anihšināpēk (Saulteaux), Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda, as well as the homeland of the Métis/Michif Nation. Upon completing her Master of Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art, she was awarded the Graduate Fellowship through Glasgow Sculpture Studios. She further holds a BFA in Painting from Concordia University and a BEd in Visual Art and Dance Education from the University of Regina. She has exhibited her work internationally with VITRINE, Basel & London; CCA Glasgow; Alchemy Film Festival, Hawick; Lunchtime Gallery, Glasgow; Art Gallery of Regina; Hague Gallery, Regina; aCinema, Milwaukee; Regina Performing Arts Centre; MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina; Projet Pangée, Montréal; Gallery Aux Vues, Montréal and forthcoming with Mourning School, Stockholm. Her work is published in Art Maze Mag, New York; KAJET Journal, Bucharest; MAP Magazine, Glasgow; Penrose Helix, London; Chains, Glasgow & Mainz and 2 Queens Gallery, Leicester. She has participated in residencies through The Work Room, Tramway, Glasgow; Transmission Gallery, Glasgow and forthcoming at Inshriach Bothy Residency, Cairngorms, Scotland.

Juliana Zalucky is also Ukrainian Canadian and owner of Zalucky Contemporary. She has a BA from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Fine Art from York University. She has worked for non-profit and commercial galleries for over 20 years and sat on numerous boards and committees for major institutions and artist-run centers. Zalucky Contemporary launched in 2015 with a focus on presenting and promoting the work of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. The gallery represents a group of artists practicing in an eclectic range of media, such as painting, photography, video, installation and sculpture. The gallery alternates between solo exhibitions and curated group presentations, and works to create a platform for emerging art practices. In 2016 and 2020, ZaluckyContemporary was awarded The Gattuso Prize for exhibitions presented within the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

Ayla Dmyterko’s Vyshyvani Kazky, Embroidered Stories is funded by The Shevchenko Foundation, Jean Karakola & Linda Ladin Visual Art Fund.

Zoom talk with Ayla Dmyterko
May 19 7:00 PM (ET)

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