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In 2016 I began researching and creating an installation project based on the first wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, 1891-1914. Though this project is specific to Ukrainians and of a past time, many of the same circumstances, issues and hardships are analogous to the immigrants of today.
My installation employs a variety of sculptures and hangings. I have used archival photos of immigrants from the above time period, found objects, maps and my own photography of abandoned homesteads, acquired during road trips across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. All borrowed images are from museums and national, provincial and local archives and have been licensed and/or have letters of permission for use.
Textured acrylic and fabric hangings, 8’l x 4’w, adorned with archival images of new immigrants will hang from the ceiling 12” from the walls. Light will shine through creating unique colored shadows on the surfaces behind them.
A large plaster sculpture of a slumped woman, etched with text, faces these hangings and plaster rocks (etched with vignettes depicting life on the prairies) are piled somewhere the gallery. These sculptural elements represent immigrants creating a new existence while developing strong communities.
Hand rusted metal sheets, approximately 5’l x 4’w, adorned with archival images of new immigrants hang, floating 1.5” off the walls. Cryptic writing is scrawled across in white and acrylic/fabric objects stand off the pieces.
Photocopies of Ukrainian flyers advertising prosperity and free land in Canada, circa the late 1800’s, will be applied to an area of a wall representing hopes and dreams of immigrants. They will be applied in a random way suggesting the disorientation immigrants must feel when they uproot from their homelands, landing in a new a foreign world.
Found iconic items like rusty gas cans, old containers and tools don images of abandoned farm buildings and maps of my travels exploring our overlooked southern prairies. They will perch on pillars covered by acrylic boxes like precious antiquities in a museum reminding us of the people from afar who have become valuable and loved members of our communities.
In an attempt to develop the prairies, Canada encouraged Ukrainians, and other hearty European peoples, to make the long strenuous journey to Canada by promising free fertile farmland. They were desperate; running from oppression, poverty, war and lack of available land. When they arrived, sometimes just months before winter, they were taken to their remote plots of often forested, rocky land, with only meager possessions. Ukrainians were unwelcomed and experienced prejudice and racism due to their uneducated and poor backgrounds. Hopes and dreams smothered, they were forced into another hostile world, another place where they had to struggle to survive.
The short history of Ukrainians in Canada speaks to many human wrongs but in particular closely parallels the current world issues of the thousands of displaced refugees, our new Canadian immigrants and the prejudice and racism they face here, especially in today’s political environment, as well as an issue more deeply rooted in Canada, the First Nations reconciliation.