Project MARIA

Lesia Maruschak

2018 - Ongoing

Project MARIA was inspired by a single vernacular photograph of a young girl, Maria F., who survived the Holodomor and currently resides in Canada. Holodomor refers to the famine manufactured by Soviet policies during their occupation of Ukraine which, despite an estimated death toll of over four million, remains largely ignored in the context of global genocides. Canada has the world’s third-largest population of people of Ukrainian descent, and thus is home to countless members of the Ukrainian diaspora who continue to mourn this largely unwritten atrocity, and carry a legacy of descendant trauma

The National Holodomor Genocide Museum (Kyiv, Ukraine) hailed Project MARIA as the most famous exhibition on the 1932-33 famine-genocide in Soviet Ukraine. This mobile multimedia installation includes artwork, film, performance, and lectures. Since its conception in 2018, Project MARIA has won multiple international awards and been exhibited in over nine countries, and is currently on a six-city tour of Ukraine which was interrupted by Russia’s invasion.

Maruschak is currently reinterpreting this work to move beyond memorialization to explore what history can tell us about the future in terms of large scale violence, war crimes and genocide and the role of the photograph

With the state of war in Ukraine at the time of this writing, this work is now more relevant than ever.

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  • Manifesting the transparency and translucency inherent in starvation as described in testimonies was of paramount importance.
    The young boy, Mykola Stepanovych recalls that his mother “looked like a glass jar, filled with clear spring water. All her body that could be seen was see-through and filled with water, like a plastic bag.”

  • This work depicts the final words of the dying. Constructed from a vintage Old Church Slavonic prayerbook I purchased in a Lviv in 2016. All 500+ pages were scanned, layered and merged, and subjected to the algorithm I created which allowed me to replicate an image and alter its transparency hundreds of times. Through repetition and rhythm, I worked to activate the prayers of the dying.

  • This image explores this act of cultural/national genocide, and is my first step in creating a new model for monuments of historical crimes.
    A soldier is partially decapitated, his eyes eradicated, representing decay and destruction and becoming an object of trauma, individual and collective, beautiful and horrifying.

  • The images are based on photographs taken by Alexander Wienerberger, an Austrian chemical engineer who spent almost two decades working in the U.S.S.R.
    I was granted access to a collection of Holodomor photographs that provide perhaps the most vivid and detailed visual evidence of the famine the Soviets tried so hard to hide.

  • COUNTING, manifests my inability to make sense of the eradication of life on mass scales. Photographs taken during the genocide are marked with red dots on black bars to represent the Salamis Tablet, a marble counting device dating from around 300 BC.
    I explore the impossibility of knowing exactly how many millions died, while living in a world which is overwhelmed with precise victim counts.

  • What does it mean to be a perpetrator and a victim in the same body and spirit?

    Conveying this tension is a key theme pervading the art works, my books on the subject, and the installation.

  • In addressing the Holodomor, I decided to avoid the monolithic form of traditional memorials by making a mobile performative installation - one which invites the audience to actively engage with the pieces, in order to create their own memories of this event that has been largely effaced from history. Project MARIA would serve as a memorial and an agent for activism.

  • When the U.S. Congress published its First Interim Report in 1987 on the Investigation of the Ukrainian Famine, victim testimonies became a matter of public record and shaped my work.
    Tetiana Pavlychka remembered that her sister “had a large, swollen stomach, and her neck was long and thin like a bird’s neck. People didn’t look like people — they were more like starving ghosts.”

  • "My sister died in bed by my side but I didn’t even know she was dead. My mother wanted to give her something to eat, and called her, “Ksenya, Ksenya.” I said, “She’s sleeping.” Mother went to her and she was already cold. Imagine what state I was in, I didn’t understand anything. Hunger kills. Who hasn’t been hungry may not understand, but hunger kills your memory.”

  • “Whoever owns history, owns the future.” - Jan Verwoert

    This work is an interpretation of the survivor Maria F.

    As an artist working with archival images, unwritten histories, and the power structures embedded therein, I live with those who are no longer, those who are, and those not yet living. Project MARIA foregrounds a history which may tell us more about the future than the past.