For the past 2500 years, Ukrainians have worn vyshyvanki, national garments adorned with ethnic embroidery, as talismans of protection. Rooted in ancient pagan traditions, women have been weaving coded spells of good fortune for their loved ones into these garments. Thus vyshyvanki became known as the people’s Spiritual Armor. But today Ukraine needs a different kind of armor: body armor & medical supplies. For this reason, I launched the Spiritual Armor campaign to raise funds for life-saving supplies. Through donations and artwork sales, the campaign has so far raised approximately $40,000 USD.
The artworks themselves began through the process of taking apart the traditional vyshyvanki and reconstructing them as wall pieces. I wanted to find a way to symbolize the unbreakable spirit of the Ukrainian people.
I’m interested in traditional ethnic Ukrainian embroidery as a starting point for art and am exploring where else they can go. The resulting canvas-based works explore themes of violence, protection, resilience, and rebirth. The original set was based on preexisting vyshivanki that I had purchased in Odesa a decade ago. Since then, I’ve begun to work directly with local artisans by commissioning my own designs as it feels important to me to support the artisan living and working in Ukraine currently.
In other works, I employ a technique called Pulled Thread, manipulating the weave to create patterns and textures. The repetitive actions become a meditative ritual, enabling me to breathe through the pain of listening to the news while connecting with my ancestry. It feels important to introduce the pulled thread and embroidery onto a RBG sized linen canvas, integrating the rich symbolism of Ukrainian embroidery directly into the fabric of a traditionally European surface. This allows me to honor the ancient craft while reflecting the will of contemporary Ukrainian people.
There are times when the canvas becomes a battleground for my emotions. There I embrace a more cathartic approach puncturing the canvas itself. Through these violent acts upon the surface, I seek to channel my anger, frustration, and longing for justice. Yet, even in the midst of the brutality, chaos and destruction, I look for hope in the transformative power of embroidery and pulled thread. Perhaps it can be a bridge between the past and the present, weaving threads of tradition, my own familiar narratives and contemporary concerns. I’m interested in creating a visual language that invites viewers to connect with the enduring strength of beloved cultural traditions, the profound impact of geopolitical conflicts, and the potential for healing and rebirth.
In the act of cross stitching and pulled thread I see a potential for healing, employing these ancient traditions as an act of prayer. These stitches themselves become a testament to resilience, restoration, and the power of collective intention.