Resilience: Two Ukrainian Women Artists
Zinaida and Iryna Maksymova
RT LAB of Amelie A. Wallace Gallery
Social & Environmental Justice Institute
SUNY Old Westbury

April 17 – June 19, 2023
ART LAB of Amelie A. Wallace Gallery and the Social and Environmental Justice Institute (SEJI) at SUNY Old Westbury is pleased to announce its inaugural exhibition, Resilience: Two Ukrainian Women Artists. Co-sponsored by WGSS (Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies), the show features selected works by two Ukrainian women, video artist, Zinaida (b. 1975, Kyiv, Ukraine) and painter, Iryna Maksymova (b. 1991, Lviv, Ukraine) who are presently living amid air raids and frequent disruptions of electrical power, heat, and water supply. Focused on images of women, the works portray female protagonists as defiant figures of strength, independence, and resilience. Expressed in various media, Zinaida and Maksymova explore traditional Ukrainian motifs as vehicles of preserving and representing national identity, power, and endurance in the face of physical danger and the threat of losing their motherland.

Zinaida focuses on the peculiarities of femininity and traditional culture, the diversity of authenticity and modernity, transformation of the ancient into the modern and, the integration of sacred and mystical themes. For this exhibition, she presents two video works and two photographs. The main video, Mute (2015), offers silent portraits of female Ukrainian Maidan Protest volunteers during Euromaidan, the civil struggle of the winter of 2013/2014. The most significant historical event prior to the Russian invasion of 2022, it made a lasting impact on the formation of Ukraine's contemporary national identity. Zooming in on the faces of female volunteers, such as a nurse, a rescue worker, and a journalist, Zinaida reveals in subtle detail the otherwise silent, stoic protesters' emotional expressions against the tumultuous background. The women's defiant and resilient expressions make the work timeless. In Transformation (2012), Zinaida explores the rich layers of lived experience inherent in Ukrainian cultural codes, asking the eternal questions of the meaning of human existence. Often juxtaposing renewal vs. death as two symbolic elements on a split screen—egg vs. dried fruit, hand vs. foot, white veil vs. black veil—the video appeals directly to our senses. Charged with symbolism, colors play an important role: white, black, and red may suggest purity, austerity, and passion.

Iryna Maksymova works primarily in figurative paintings and collaged quilting textile. Masymova is influenced by the early 20th Century Ukrainian avant-garde—Neo-Primitivism in particular—as well as by the brightly colored, whimsical, and fantastical works of Ukrainian self-taught female artists such as Mariya Prymachenko (1909–1997), who became an icon of Ukrainian national identity after a Russian attack destroyed some of her works at a museum.

Maksymova's work also references Eastern European street art, as reflected in her bold marks, graffiti tags, spray paint, and energetic scribbles and hand-drawn Gothic letters. Her vocabulary builds on the visual and literary tradition of Ukrainian folklore and "naïve" narratives of self- taught folk painters. For this exhibition, she presents several paintings from her Motherland series and one textile work. Reminiscent of Expressionism, Masymova work revolves around energetically brushed female nudes largely devoid of anatomical accuracy, proportion, or three- dimensionality. She considers these monumental women to be "symbolic of the strength and resilience of a nation." Other frequent motifs are animals, such as dogs, horses, tigers, dolphins and firebirds. The artist sometimes presents these figures as protectors of the people and land, while at other times as saints and warriors. Unlike her figurative paintings on canvas, Maksymova's textile work, Blue and Yellow 2 (2023), reveals abstract qualities where patches of blue and yellow fabric are harmoniously sewn together, evoking nature while also representing the colors of the Ukrainian flag, thereby reflecting the artist's patriotic devotion.