When I look at the Ibu dress recently embroidered by women in Ukraine, I am dumbstruck by its delicate beauty—a May morning in threads—and how it was made, one stitch at a time, through a long, dark winter of war.
I texted Lesia Pona, the artist throwing her talents into saving the cultural language of her people, leading the women who stitched their heart and prayers into this dress. I wanted to hear directly from her about the ominous cloud daily hovering above their lives. Her response so moved me, I wanted you to hear it in her words:
I am asked many times about my artwork during such difficult times, wrote Lesia. Well, in our life we all need some constant things which make us feel safe and in harmony with the world around: our creative work, our family and friends, faith, community, nature. And when, for some reason, we lose any of these, then we try to find balance in all we have left, and it helps us to hold on in some way. Art for survival—these words sometimes have a very direct meaning.
We all had a strong hope that this bloodshed would stop soon, especially after successfully liberating some Ukrainian cities and villages in autumn, but unfortunately they chose to fight civilians—they started to bomb important infrastructure to leave people without power, freezing during the long, cold winter. So the winter we survived was maybe the coldest and darkest in my memory, due to endless blackouts. We sometimes have had just one or two hours of power a day. And that is besides the daily air raid alerts blasting through the city.
Before my eyes now is Holiday eve in the main cathedral in Lviv, my home city, full of people and yet no power—only the little light at the front, run by a generator. Those are the only sounds you can hear in the streets—loud generators and air raid sirens. The rest is silence.
We've lost so many of our friends, brothers, sons. It’s a war and you have to be ready, but you never can be. Many of our artisans have their beloved on the frontline, so the hardest thing maybe is waiting for any news from them.
I remember once our seamstress came to work after a sleepless night (her son was going back to the frontline), and when I asked her to go home to rest, she said 'I can’t, because I will simply cry all day. It’s easier for me to stay together with all of you and keep working.' Art, as I said before, helps us to just hold on.
The dress we made has its design based on traditional, stylized, geometric ornaments of central Ukraine, with colors altered for Ibu. It is like spring, which is now here, also. I took these pictures just a few days ago. Spring can't be cancelled. Doesn't matter that it's war.
Thanks so much for your attention and support, says Lesia. It does matter, you see.
All the best,