The Landscape of Memory: Maria – Lesia Maruschak, Late September 2018
Ghostly shadows haunt the landscape of memory. Shades of the past rise from the hills; wisps of fog blur the distinction between present and past—obscuring the future humanity is doomed to repeat if the lessons of the past are lost to the ravishes of time and dementia. And yet, yet, there is no escape from these insistent hauntings. Clues are found in the images, the texts we stumble upon, the stories whispered slithering from limb to limb of our beloved but gnarled and twisted family trees, in forgotten archives, in flea markets, in antique stores, pressed into the pages of the Old Testament, slipped between the covers of the Talmud and Mishnah, the Koran, the Sutras, embedded in the stories we are told when we are young and learn to repeat over and over like the guarded messages in a broken telephone game. Maria was young once; now, she is ageless, a symbol, not unlike the more famous Anne Frank, of the inhumanity of man to children, those disappeared buried in mass graves or not at all; their fragile young bones left to whiten uninterred, picked clean by microbes under the dappled green forest canopy.
Maruschak, the artist, the chronicler of the past through found images and her familial archive, pays homage to the victims of Stalin’s vicious reign in the Ukraine. Working in an image-based series that “underscores the theatre of political power and serves as a metaphor elucidating the creation, performance, and maintenance of societies of fear,” she makes tangible the ghosts of her ancestors, our ancestors. There are few places around the globe that have escaped the scars of genocide, of repression, of fear. The artist creates to reclaim individual memory and, in claiming for herself a personal history, transcends the self to articulate our collective history; her tears become our universal tears causing the oceans to rise at first imperceptibly but now in a torrent of “inconvenient truths.”
Why are we, and here I reference the global human species—the editorial we, why are we doomed to separate children from their parents at so many artificial borders including, now, the US/Mexico border where children are spirited off in the dark of night, their fates and whereabouts unknown? Maruschak’s images of starving children directly link the Soviet Politburo’s institutionalized policy of artificial starvation that resulted in the deaths of 5 million, let me repeat that staggering number, 5 million people in the Ukraine during the Second World War to what is happening now to millions of families fleeing starvation, violence, and injustice even in economically progressive “First World” countries. Inexcusably haunting.
Maruschak moves quietly, uneasily, between countries, Canada, the Ukraine, the United States of America, working to create necessary monuments to the past. If we are silent, the monuments become a tribute to our own inability to act. The artist cautions her viewers about “the alarming tendencies to blend fact and fiction, and to sow doubt about established norms, (which) harken back to periods when demagogues spun new myths about past, present and future and combined them with spectacles.” We live in a world of globally televised spectacles where those in power hold on frantically at any cost to their fragile power waving mirrors to deflect the light from their own covert actions. We cannot let the mourning for human decency, for the loss of public morality, for simple human kindness to force us into another collective silence. What is our ethical responsibility to say what we know, to say something if we see something? All too often we incessantly frequent the theatres of a celluloid world of escapism when the theatres of mass suffering are common features of our cultural landscapes demanding the same attention. The politics of memory have always been manipulated by the image. We refuse to look deeply. The late sophisticated photographer of the powerful and famous, Richard Avedon, wrote: “Isn’t it trivializing and demeaning to make someone look wise, noble (which is easy to do), or even conventionally beautiful when the thing itself is so much more complicated, contradictory, and, therefore, fascinating?” Maruschak likewise knows exactly what she is doing when she manipulates the images she works with to create a memorial for Maria; the process of reworking the prints pays tribute to those who have come before as well as a talisman to our own survival—wreaths placed on the landscape of our hearts.
© Mary Anne Redding