This Land Was Made For You And Me

Lesia Maruschak

2020 - Ongoing

This Land Was Made For You And Me is a retelling of history and an exploration of cultural identity. It is a story of a young woman Anna, a being of memory, narrative, and myth. It is a story rooted in the past, extending into our time. The story begins with the idea of belonging when belonging is impossible.

As a child growing up on the Canadian prairies, I understood that my family and I were different. My first memories of this are from 1967, I was six years old. I couldn’t speak English. No one outside our community could say my name. It is Lesia.

I am a descendant of Ukrainian immigrants who came to Canada in search of a better life. Instead, alongside 8,579 other men, women and children, they found themselves interned from 1914-1920. They were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Their dreams collapsed, along with their rights and freedoms.

I began work on the project in 2020 and unearthed a carefully curated past of marginalized histories: lands emptied by colonizers; the subsequent immigration of thousands as vehicles for the government’s economic expansion program and their later internment as weapons of war. This project is my response.

As if a travel diary, I use a coding system to unravel the emotionally driven plot and to explore the palimpsest/fluid nature of cultural identity. Hierarchies of historical storylines are flattened; archival texts accompany recolored pictorial landscapes of the time; government advertising posters precede images of Canadian winter landscapes; and newspaper cuttings follow Anna’s letters, which I have written as if a woman interned. These layers are inspired by Stuart Hall’s notion that cultural identity is “a matter of becoming as well as of being”; the letters express the lived experience of “the others”, as discussed by Eduard Said’s in his book Orientalism. I insert myself into the work, with image and text, as the enunciated – marked by hybridity – to open a dialogue on the post-colonial experience.

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  • Internees in Canada's first world war internment camps were allowed to send mail. This postcard, from the Library Archives Canada Collection, depicts steamships used to bring immigrants to Canada. This card was sent by an internee housed in one of the 24 internment camps which marked the Canadian landscape from 1914-1920; 8,579 men, women and children were interned.

  • Most traditional peasant houses in Ukraine have been burned to the ground, with their owners long deceased. My family home, albeit abandoned, still stands. My grandmother would often tell me stories of leaving her mother for her new life in Canada. In 2017, I visited and photographed this site which had not been touched since by great Aunt died. It was bizarre to find a photograph of myself as a young girl in this house .... rolling around, dust covered as if abandoned and forgotten by time.

  • This black and white, hand tinted, photograph of my family in Ukraine is from my personal collection. Some of the individuals depicted left Ukraine, others remained. The image lays the foundation for my role as the protagonist Anna, a character of myth, narrative and fantasy. I decided to photograph myself in traditional costumes emerging from the Canadian landscape for this project. I am as if one of the immigrants depicted. Yet, I am always displaced in place, time and context.

  • antine style prairie churches punctuate the Western Canadian landscape. Upon arriving in Canada, the immigrant communities took to building halls, churches - institutions - which would allow them to maintain and nurture their collective identity. This church, located next door to my prairie art studio, is still active, but collapsing. Sadly, it is quite unlikely that it will be preserved as the small parish community is unable to sustain the legacy passed down to it.

  • Almost all Ukrainians who came to Canada, as part of the first wave of immigration (1886-1914), carried Austro-Hungarian passports. Ukraine was occupied by Austro-Hungary at this time. These immigrants made up more than 60% of the persons interned from 1914-1920. This is a photograph from my collection of Austro Hungarian passports. I have intervened and stained the image as if to point to the impacts of migration and shattered dreams.

  • The face of King George V was found on many stamps of the day and funded the Dominion's war effort. Internees or enemy aliens found themselves using these stamps to send postcards to family and friends. This high resolution scan of an actual vintage postage stamp is from my collection of materials sourced in support of the research phase of this project.

  • I wrote a series of fictional letters as Anna, a woman interned, She, her husband and their two children, Taras and Natalka, came to Canada in 1980 and later found themselves in an internment camp. Her words are animated using a typewriter font to emulate the newsprint of the day. The text is presented on the inner pages of an authentic Austro-Hungarian passport. These letters, their content and form, are one of the key objects in the book which unveil Anna's emotional journey and serve as markers to advance the narrative's plot.

  • Armed weapons and barbed wire are symbols of the machinery of detention camps originating in Cuba in 1896. The American detention camps at Guantanamo are their descendants and part of the ongoing global history of what Andrea Pitzer refers to as concentration camps. The image "Late Night Choo Choo" which depicts an armed guard awaiting the arrival of the prisoner, is taken from a miniature souvenir internment camp album. I recolored it to exaggerate the romantic tendency of photography at that time, one which could even make an internment camp and weapons of war look strangely beautiful.

  • The Canadian War Measures Act Reinterpreted. This document, issued under the authority of King George V, stripped various ethnocultural communities of their rights and freedoms. The artistic gesture echoes the DADA tradition which arose during the First World War. I found it inspiring and well aligned with my intent to disrupt the historical bylines and propose an alternate storyline. The red selections are taken from various historical documents that I reviewed during my research. In creating this series of works I followed 3 rules that Ramon and I established: the supporting records and the highlighted red text had to come from authentic and archival documents related to the subject; each work would present 2 randomly selected phrases, also derived from authentic/archival records; and there need not be a relationship between the 2 texts, or the texts and the supporting record. One might conclude that we are creating our own propaganda.

  • 181 women and children were interned. This image, from the Library Archives Canada Collection, depicts children imprisoned at the Spirit Lake Internment Camp, Quebec. I have inverted it to point to the emerging identities of the children and the traumatic impact of this experience on them and their families. The negative is a means of exploring Stuart Hall's view of cultural identity as something that is "in production", as is the image in its negative form.

  • The work's title appears to be a question; yet, I do not use punctuation as I am interested in the context and not the answer. The objectification of the prisoners, and the systemic and legalised use of labour and confiscation of property from people who were without means of protection from the law or society, are my focus. These alien enemies were not only a political problem for the government of the day, but also a great source of labour and constructed many of the roads of Canada's national park system. My artistic gestures: layering of text onto an image, recoloring it, and adding red shapes, are threads that I weave throughout the story to communicate the historic event—taking place on material, political, visual and economic levels. It is this context manifested by the weaving together of image and text that informs the works, what the works narrate, what unifies them, and the way in which they foreground their own narration.

  • An archival photograph from Library Archives Canada Collection which I visited twice in 2020, just before the outbreak of COVID. The materials I worked with and documented occupy a critical place in the narrative playing metaphorical and literal roles in illustrating the various power constructs and the concept of predator and prey. When reading internee testimonies describing escape attempts and the guards shooting at them, I felt as if there was a parallel between the hunting expedition and internment. The internees were never armed and there was no where to escape to, as most found themselves in Canada's hinterland with temperatures of -30 and -40 degrees and clothing which was completely inappropriate for the circumstances.

  • My house on the Canadian prairies; land location NE14-41-1-W3rd. This two-room building was built by the Malko family between 1901-1905. It is a constant feature in my work and a place of great intrigue. Still standing, its interior retains the original paint colors; the back wall is missing. Without a new roof, it will fall soon, as have all the others around it. Rather than present what is, I reinterpret my image as an indicator of my personal journey of coming to terms with my cultural identity which is most certainly "in production".

  • Horses and dogs appear in internment photographs. The guards rode the horses and used the dogs to keep the prisoners in line. This photograph is set in an internment camp in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and juxtaposes the hierarchical structures at play.

  • I photograph myself as Anna, the protagonist. Wearing a vintage ethnic costume from my archival collection, I stand in the land "of dreams" which is where the story begins. Anna searches for her identity, hides behind her trauma and the mirror reflects the world around her.