Following on from Immigrant Heritage Month, we had the opportunity to connect with Lana, one of our talented illustrators, from Ukraine. As she navigates her life amidst the ongoing progression of the war, we sparked a conversation, seeking to uncover the intricate realities of being a creative in Ukraine. Through thought-provoking questions, we aimed to shed light on the challenges and aspirations that shape Lana’s journey. Join us as we embark on an insightful exploration of her unique perspective and the resilient spirit that fuels her creativity.
Please tell us a short story about your experience of learning about the conflict and then making a decision to leave.
We anticipated the conflict but didn’t truly believe it would happen until the last minute. During the invasion, both my brother and I were in Kyiv. We quickly found a car and travelled to my hometown in central Ukraine. I stayed there for around 3 to 4 days before making the immediate decision to leave, as advised by my mom. I went to Poland, to begin with, where my cousin had been living for several years.
What motivated you to return to Ukraine despite the ongoing conflict? How did you find the courage to face the challenges associated with going back to your life there?
After staying in Poland for a little while, we decided to go further and the idea of staying in a safe country like Portugal was wiser, but the unbearable thought of being far from my family made me decide to return to Ukraine after months and months of struggle and tears. It took me days to travel across the country, but after months of emotional struggle, I bought plane tickets without telling my family and came back to be with them. We can’t predict the future, so being together was my priority.
How has your experience as a creative person abroad influenced your artistic expression upon your return? Have you found new sources of inspiration or a different perspective that informs your work now?
The situation affected me, and I channelled my emotions into art, but I struggle to share it publicly. Despite knowing its importance, I find it complicated and have mixed feelings about posting my work online.
My friend and assistant, Gina, who had witnessed the power of my creations, urged me to post my work, recognising the value it held not only for myself but potentially for others as well. Yet, every time I approached the moment of clicking that “share” button, I just couldn’t do it. On one hand, I know it’s important for me to create and express myself. But when it comes to actually posting my work during the war, something doesn’t feel quite right. I can’t fully explain why, and it leaves me with mixed feelings.
Despite this confusion, I actively work on understanding my own beliefs about sharing my art. I remind myself that it’s important, even if it doesn’t have a big impact on the world. I push myself to overcome the hesitation and doubts, knowing that creating and expressing myself through art is meaningful. While the complexity of this issue may remain, I am determined to move forward and share my work with others.
As the months passed and all events unfolded, did you experience a surge of inspiration to create more?
During the first wave of shock and fear, I created a series of three illustrations to express not only my own feelings but also those of fellow Ukrainians I knew. These artworks depicted various emotions such as anguish, pain, and fear. However, I never shared or posted them publicly. It felt like a personal creation, something just for myself.
As an illustrator, I initially focused on simpler art and commissioned work. But over time, my style evolved, and I began exploring more complex and expressive pieces. I am transitioning from being solely an illustrator for clients to embracing the role of an artist who conveys my own vision, thoughts, and mindset through my work. This shift in focus and artistic growth coincided with the experiences during the war, acting as a catalyst for this transformation.
Can you share any particular moments or encounters that made you realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in your home country even during the war? How do you hope to make a difference through your creativity?
During such a challenging time, my primary concern has been the well-being and safety of my family and myself. The overwhelming nature of the situation has prevented me from formulating concrete plans or specific encounters that made me realise the importance of contributing to the artistic and cultural scene in my home country during the war. My immediate focus has been on survival and ensuring the safety of my loved ones.
Another illustration from Winter 2022.
In your art in general, past, present or future art, do you incorporate any symbols or colours that could tell people who you are and where you’re from?
That’s a great question because it made me reflect on my artistic journey. Previously, I didn’t prioritise incorporating elements of my cultural identity into my work. However, as I continue to develop my style and explore my art, I am beginning to recognise its importance. I hope to find the courage to share my cultural perspective with my audience soon. While I used to believe that my art could change the world, the current situation has made me question its impact. Nevertheless, I strive to be more socially active and understand that art can still influence various aspects of life.
Having worked with a number of amazing clients and being an important part of NERD, how do you think your decision to stay in Ukraine will impact progress in your career?
The situation definitely had an impact on my work, although not specifically with NERD-related projects. Due to the circumstances, I had to take on various projects to support my family financially during the initial challenging phase of the war. This heavy workload took a toll on my mental state and led to burnout.
Looking ahead, I remain hopeful for the future of Ukraine. I aspire to see a time where we can build our lives and dreams within our own country, rather than seeking opportunities elsewhere. As for my art, I am focusing on transitioning from being solely an illustrator to embracing the role of an artist. I am open to where this artistic journey takes me, going with the flow and seeing where it leads.