Zinaida is one of the most important Ukrainian artists working today. Her practice revolves around the study of mythologies, national symbols, archaic imagery, and the role of women as carriers of sacred knowledge, stemming from the Kyiv-based artist’s extensive ethnographic research and close collaboration with indigenous communities in remote areas of her country. Marina Abromović has described Zinaida’s practice as subtly balancing her work “at the juncture of historical symbolism and modernity. She uses traditional imagery, rituals and crafts to convey meanings that are relevant to a vibrant and fluid culture. Zinaida is a rebel. She was in many dangerous zones (on Maidan during the Revolution of Dignity, Chornobyl, in the war zone in the Eastern Ukraine). To me she is like a Ukrainian “Guerilla Girl.” Zinaida’s work is currently on view in Venice and New York.
Zinaida’s solo pavilion Without Women is an official Ukrainian Collateral Event at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition’s curator, Dallas Contemporary Executive Director Peter Doroshenko, introduced Zinaida as “a national cultural figure for Ukraine.” He says that over the last fifteen years, she has “summarized, documented and interpreted contemporary Ukrainian society through her work. Zinaida’s works have become an important and seminal influence for all the contemporary Ukrainian artists.”
An important video work by Zinaida is Dakini, on view at Sapar Contemporary until August 26, 2022. According to the artist, the title of the work ‘Dakini’ references “an enlightened woman” in Buddhism – a concept she employs to tell the story of the emotional places of women. The work was inspired by a small remote village of thirty inhabitants in Western Ukraine. Zinaida who spent a lot of time with the villagers observed how profoundly all aspects of their life were connected to nature, seasons and cycles of life. She witnessed how all important transitions, such as birth, illness, or death, involved the village’s elder women. The resulting work is a meditation on the emotional and spiritual states of women, human transformation in time and space.
In conversation with Nina Levent, Ph.D.
N.L.: You have just returned to Ukraine, as soon it became reasonably safe to return to Kyiv. Can you describe your feelings upon your return?
Zinaida: It was very emotional for me to face this new reality. In Europe, I lived in fear of losing my country. As soon as I crossed the Ukrainian border, I kissed the ground and touched the earth with my palms. My first impulse was to rush to see those who are dear to me – my parents, family, and friends. Next, I turned to my artistic practice. I am working on an exhibition that deals with my research and interpretation of embroidery patterns, as I have been collecting old embroidered works for over ten years and researched their significance. I am now using these patterns in art-therapy and rehabilitation programs.
N.L.: I know that you wanted to go to the Chernobyl Zone as soon as you returned. I was very worried about your safety, but there was obviously no stopping you.
Zinaida: My first trip outside of Kyiv was to visit older settlers in the Chernobyl Exclusion Area. I have been working with them for many years on a project that is essentially about happiness. Of course, it is also about strength and perseverance, however, at the core of what I wanted to show is joy. For some, it may seem counterintuitive that I should look for joy in a place as isolated and dangerous as Chernobyl, but for me this project is about the joys of everyday life on one’s native land. There are still armed enemy soldiers in some villages, the roads are full of mines, and the bridges have been detonated, so getting around is very dangerous and difficult. They have expressed to me that this war with Russia has been a greater disaster than the nuclear disaster of 1986.
Women and Other Wild Creatures: Matrilineal Tales, curated by Nina Levent, Ph.D., is now on view at SAPAR Contemporary through August 26, 2022, located at 9 N. Moore St. New York, NY 10013. Without Women, by Zinaida is on view until November 27, 2022, located at Spiazzi, Castello 3865, Venice, Italy. Part of the Collateral Events at the Venice Biennale.