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Sonya Iwasiuk's exhibition, A New Resilience, is based on the First Wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada. Her installation contains a body of work that corresponds with one of the most pressing current world issues – people fleeing their turbulent homelands in search of peace and prosperity. Although this project is visually based on Ukrainians and a past time, she feels that many of the same circumstances, issues and hardships are analogous to Canadian immigrants today.

Scroll down to view this digital gallery. Click on artwork images to see an enlarged or complete view of the piece.

PoMoArts Gallery is open daily for in-person visits and artwork is available for purchase over the phone or in person. See PoMoArts website for Gallery hours and our COVID 19 Safety Plan.

PoMoArts Gallery installed exhibition image.
Trying to grasp and then throw light on the unfathomable; capturing the harsh and beautiful stories of people from our past and present is an integral part of me. We are surrounded at once by intense beauty and vitality and yet, at times, darkness and fragility take over. It’s so hard sometimes to grasp the implausible hardships people endure, but more unbelievable to me is their inextinguishable hope and will to survive. They persist.

A New Resilience

Every abandoned place is alive. They too speak of people and memory; a silent history of forgotten lives. I grew up on the outskirts of many small prairie towns. I and my best friend Lady, a Border Collie mix, would wander; romping across expansive fields and sauntering through sparse forests in search of adventure, treasure and liberty. We would discover empty homesteads and the fortunes preserved within their walls, strewn about in the tall dancing grasses or slightly buried, like bones, beneath the dust of the topsoil. We were standing in someone’s past, a life that was no longer, and I would contemplate and imagine it.

A Long Way Home 6"x20" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $245

These formative experiences along with the stories of my Ukrainian heritage developed my curiosity about Canada’s pioneering past and impelled the use of historical subject matter in my work. At the hand of researching the history of my great-great-grandparents who came to Canada during the First Wave, (1891-1914), I discovered that the motivations for migration and the hardships that immigrants faced, are comparable to what some Canadian immigrants face today, especially in our current political environment.

Strong and Free? 96"x48" Acrylic, Cheesecloth $6950 - At times, photographers visited Pier 21 Halifax and other ports in Quebec and New Brunswick to photograph immigrants disembarking off of the ships. The date of this stoic young girl’s arrival is unknown, but we do know her last name is Choban. The journeys on the ships were long and strenuous and with, often, poor food and accommodations. There are stories of ships crawling with insects and bunk beds thrown together haphazardly swinging from rope. Many times, conditions were unventilated and cramped with people laying on floors heaving with sea sickness. Anxieties were high and tempers flared often. This strong little girl and her family somehow made it through.
Esther's Story 36"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $2650 - She is one of the last. A monument from the past. I slept behind her one night and awoke early, at sunrise, surrounded by a herd of grazing deer. The last time I went back to my small hometown, the two grain elevators that announced the town were gone. As a child I played around them. I put pennies on the tracks waiting in anticipation for the trains to flatten them. I sat in the dust cried.
Clockwise L-R A Beautiful Place to Call Home; Growing in the Sun; The Old Workshop; A New Hope Abounds in Spring; The Sun Always Shines Down. Each piece: 7"x7" Mixed Media on Found Metal $145
Daydreams Under a New Sky 96"x48" Acrylic, Cheesecloth $6,950 - This place is harsher than expected; full of biting insects in the summer and colder than death in the winter. The land is rocky and treed and will need clearing before life can start. The racism here is a hard blow and being left on this land (this is not farmland!) with such few belongings and no other help is unsettling. Other groups received some financial help from the government, and even others the sharing of an animal and plow. The courage, work and resolve it will take to survive this feels daunting. The stars are different here.
Mother 27"x28"x34" Plaster, Wire, Acrylic $5,650 - Women worked hard clearing the land and farming it, in many situations by themselves with the children, so their husbands could take jobs to supplement the family’s income. They would also take care of the livestock, gardens, children, cooking, cleaning, preservation of the food and seeds and all of the other farm and household chores. The women were the foundations of the homesteads. They were formidable pillars in the communities.
Resilience and The Moon 63"x43" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $4,150 - Where the wind always blows a family’s hope soars with the sun. After the first summer, they have cleared some land and had a small crop and garden. They have been able to save their own seeds for next year, have finished their temporary sod hut and are preparing food for the long bitterly cold winter. They have a cow and she supplies them with friendship and milk. The moon is full, and they celebrate her light.
Dreams of a Time 10"x22" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $375
When Night Falls 36"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $2,650 - I suddenly come upon undulating hills spotted with small clumps of forest. The road curves and winds flirtatiously revealing new vistas at every turn. As the night begins to settle in, she changes the palette of the sky to allure calm. This is the same sky our ancestors and First Nations people looked at so many years before. We are all connected.
Free to Rest 6"x20" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $245
A Gaze Away 30"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $2,250 - This is one of the few remaining places that farming hasn’t touched. I discover teepee rings, half-buried, on a bluff overlooking the hills. I feel the history here. It feels like a spiritual place and I respect it. I imagine what it must have been like before we came. I wish I could travel back in time and somehow change things.
Wind That Shakes the Barley 30"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $2,250 - The distant mountains south of the border touch the fields quietly and so does the wind. She sends beautiful ripples across the bountiful grasses creating united song and dance. I lay on my stomach, the sun, a warm blanket on my back. I fall asleep amidst one of my favourite smells.
Grazing by the Pond 10"x22" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $345
Long Days of Summer 6"x20" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $245

I document pivotal moments or seemingly insignificant snapshots of the ordinary revealing profound narratives of life both present and past.

My work is inspired by both the stories of my childhood and stories I have collected as an adult. Some I know intimately, others have been entrusted to me, and particular, intriguing ones, I have investigated. Inspiration also comes from wandering through and surveying my world.

Trying to grasp and then throw light on the incomprehensible; capturing the stories of our world and its inhabitants, is vital for me. We are surrounded at once by intense beauty and vitality and yet, at times, darkness and fragility take over. It’s hard to fathom the implausible hardships people and the earth endure, but more unbelievable to me is hope and the will to survive.

A Testament to Our Love and Toil 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95
Schoolhouse on the Prairie 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95
The Place I Reminisce 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95
Where Little Children Played 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95

Left: The Place I Reminisce 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95

Though at times the figure is my focus, I am also drawn to abandoned places and buildings because they too speak of people. Disconcerted characters and lonely entities documented within my mixed media paintings, sculptures and translucent hangings, are partially exposed and brought back to being. I often intensely research the histories of people, places and particular events and by revealing the past I have realized how strongly it speaks of the present. I progressively explore and experiment with different materials and methods of rendering and presenting these portrayals. The hope is that the unusual and unique components and techniques will create interest and delight, causing viewers to pause longer and thus communicate the message in a more meaningful and successful way. Some methods I have developed are: distinctive plaster on canvas etchings, embossed paper, large hanging embossed skins and hand-rusted sheet metal pieces.

Blue Church 29"x15" Acrylic, Cheesecloth $625; Yellow House 34"x19" Acrylic, Cheesecloth $850
Dignity of Days Gone By 4"x12" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $125
Where Kindness Springs 36"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $2,650 - There is a whole-body bliss I feel when I’m with the prairies. In the sun I walk through the sweet perfume with outstretched arms so the soft wind can play all around me. My two little dogs are happily bouncing together trying to see above the grasses. I wish days like that could last forever.
Prairie Church 12"x24" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $450
The Old Home 24"x24" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $850
Beautiful Yesterday 24"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $425; Stories in the Barn 18"x18" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $550
My Heart Song; Memories of an Honest Life; each: 9.5"x14" Mixed Media on Tin Roof Tile $275
Where Life Was Made; Time Between Years; each: 9.5"x14" Mixed Media on Tin Roof Tile $275
The Old Milking Shed; Where My Roots Are Buried Deep; each: 9.5"x14" Mixed Media on Tin Roof Tile $275
Old Relic 20"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $345
Fall Fields 24"x24" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $850
Prairie Schoolhouse; Meet Me in the Barn; each: 10"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $165
Twilight Reflections 4"x11" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $110
Light Through Trees I 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel mounted on wood cradle $95
Light Through Trees II 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel mounted on wood cradle $95
Foothills Sunset 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel mounted on wood cradle $95
Little Church on the Prairie 6"x6" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel mounted on wood cradle $95
Prairie I 5"x5" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $85

Left - Prairie II 5"x5" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $85

Freedom at Sunrise 4"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95
Once A Dream Those Broken Bones 4"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $95
Abundant Prairie 4"x12" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $125
Shelter 10"x10" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $165
Blooming Prairie 24"x48" Mixed Media on Hand-Rusted Steel $1,850

A New Resilience” is based on my Ukrainian family history and the First Wave of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, between 1891 and 1911, in which my great-great-grandparents were a part of, along with their four children. It is visually based on Ukrainians and a past time, but many of the same circumstances, issues and hardships are analogous to Canadian immigrants today.

The images in this multi-media exhibition speak of the hearty farming families enticed from Ukraine, and other rural nations, to Canada by our Government. The Canadian Government, in an attempt to populate and develop the prairies, spread the word via flyers and other means of marketing that free fertile farmland was available to homesteaders. Initially a few made the long and strenuous journey then reported home that the news of free land was truth. This initiated the first major immigration of approximately 170,000 Ukrainians during the first wave.

More importantly this exhibit is also meant to instigate discussion about one of the most pressing current world issues; people fleeing their turbulent homelands searching for safety, peace and prosperity. Ukrainians were economically and nationally oppressed in their homelands. Upon arrival in Canada they found they were unwelcomed in their new home and faced terrible racial discrimination and prejudice because of their uneducated and poor backgrounds, the way they dressed, their language and strange culture. They now had to face a new resilience.

An 1897 editorial in Winnipeg’s Daily Nor-Wester stated, “The dumping down of these filthy penniless and ignorant foreigners into progressive and intelligent communities is a serious hardship to such a community. These people bring with them disease in almost every consignment…and their dirty habits render the stamping out of infection among them a very difficult matter.”

During World War I, Galician Ukrainians were deemed enemy aliens due to their origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and over 5000 Ukrainian Canadians were interned in labour camps where they endured forced labour, hunger and overall horrible conditions. Some of Canada’s best-known landmarks were built by this interned Ukrainian labour force. One such place is Banff National Park. These new immigrant families also lost their land, the few possessions they had and all of the progress they thought they had made.

All Ukrainians, over 80,000, had to register, like criminals, were forced to report to the police regularly, had to carry papers on their person at all times and were disenfranchised. During this time, over 10,000 Ukrainians also enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Ukrainian Canadian reconciliation finally occurred when Bill C-331, acknowledgement of the internment of Ukrainian Canadians, was passed in 2005. In June 2013, Parks Canada opened a permanent exhibit about the history of the internment of these Canadian Ukrainians in Canada to create public awareness about this black spot in our history. It is situated in Banff National Park and is named Enemy Aliens, Prisoners of War: Canada’s First World War Internment Operations, 1914-1920.

The history of Ukrainians in Canada speaks to many human wrongs and parallels the ongoing and current world issue of displaced refugees running from war, famine, poverty, oppression or prejudice. It also tells of a story many of us do not like to admit or face; how our new Canadian immigrants face prejudice and racism here, in our beloved country, especially in today’s political environment. This narrative can also relate to our more historic and ongoing issue; the abuse of our First Nations citizens and the struggle towards reconciliation.

Sonya Iwasiuk

Biography

Every abandoned farm is a place of memory, a history of forgotten lives. Sonya grew up on the edges of small prairie towns where she and her dog would roam freely across fields in search of adventure, discovering empty homesteads and the treasures they would surely find there. These experiences, combined with the stories of her Ukrainian heritage, developed her curiosity about Canada’s pioneering past and use of historical subject matter and discarded objects in her work.

Sonya is a self-taught mixed media artist working in Vancouver, BC. Initially, she was a graphic designer and illustrator but her true calling was to create fine art. Her current focus is public art; both commissioned pieces and gallery installations as well as teaching mixed media classes and private lessons to adults.

Her work has been shown in galleries across Western Canada.

A New Resilience

This show has been presented as a live exhibition installed in the gallery and a digital exhibition for viewing online. Sonya Iwasiuk's virtual Artist Talk streams live to Facebook on January 14, 2021. The gallery is open for in-person visits and artwork is available for purchase in person or over the phone 1-(604)-931-2008. See PoMoArts website for Gallery hours and our COVID 19 Safety Plan.

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