Memory Making - Pamela Grombacher
At the center of WO MAN lies a vyshyvanka, the iconic Ukrainian garment that was gifted to Lesia Maruschak by her great aunt over thirty years ago. A string of images explores the various surfaces of this garment – an expanse of unadorned white cloth, the hidden seams of the lining, and the famously intricate embroidery with its bold geometric patterns partially obscured by a thin veil of sheer fabric or by a folded sleeve.
These images trace the artist’s ritual handling of cloth, flipping the garment back-to-front, turning it inside out, searching for holes, examining its construction, feeling its weight and texture in her hands. They create the sense of an active memory; not simply an act of remembering a lost relative, but the act of memory-making through touch and gesture, through an embodied relation with the material. By physically exploring and visually foregrounding the materiality of the vyshyvanka, Maruschak merges personal and political histories to create collective memories.
Holes trace the garment’s lineage of ownership and legacy of use within the artist’s family, but also mark the passing of hands and the crossing of borders, signifying larger waves of Ukrainian migration. Stitches similarly map the handiwork of the woman who made the vyshyvanka, but also recall eras in which embroidery occupied a liminal space in gendered economies, as a tool of patriarchal oppression and resistance, of female subjugation and feminist agency. By revealing the entirety of the garment – its seams and inner lining as well as its decorative patterns – Maruschak exposes female labour as skilled and meticulous in a feminist gesture that beckons viewers to critically consider the paradox of craft.
Maruschak’s photographs of the vyshyvanka constitute a performative memory-making, and by enveloping the camera in the fold of the fabric, Maruschak extends this performativity to viewer, inviting us to make memories of migration and distant homelands, of economy and exchange, of labour and power. Memories – especially collective memories – are not something we have, they are something we do.