When I arrived in church on February 27 there was a large vase of sunflowers in the front of the sanctuary. I took note of them and wondered, why sunflowers in winter? Although obviously artificial, I enjoyed the rays of yellow in the still gray February of central Ohio. It wasn’t until later that next week that I learned that the sunflower is a symbol for Ukraine. Someone had placed them as a visual prayer for the invasion that had begun half a world away.
Once my awareness was tuned to this floral symbol along with the blue and yellow of their flag, I noticed the sunflowers and Ukrainian flag in many places. Somehow, placing the colors at the bottom of photos and the sudden appearance of a late-summer flower in winter, helped us remember and connect with the plight of the Ukrainian people.
What Artists do Best
I am often impressed with how quickly artists do what they do best, creating visual expressions as a way to express the full spectrum of emotions. The English street artist, art , who captured the rendering of the weeping eye, tear dripping from the lower lip is stunning. The upper eye lid blue. The lower yellow. And in the watery reflection where the pupil sits, a reflection of a landmark of Kiev with a yellow cloud on the horizon of an explosion nearer that anyone would desire.
That one visual representation communicates what cannot be said in a thousand words. The viewer—even those of us seeing it through digital images-- is pulled into the disconnect of war. We can see the magnificence of Ukraine in the pupil with the large structure. At the same time, we can feel the grief of the imposing threat of war created on the horizon. And the sadness sits in the drop of salty water rolling over the lower eye lashes. And you have the feeling that when that tear drops from sight, there is enough water building up from the tear ducts for others to follow.
That is the beautiful things about art. In a BBC interview the artist said “I can’t pick up arms, I… use my art to make people stop and think, which is what art is for.” This work on Cardiff Street is a short-cut into a moment of an individual and a larger landscape at the same time. The artist continued, “what I can do is paint to raise awareness. If I can show some support to those in Ukraine and show the feelings people are having here, then that is my little contribution.”
An artist’s gift to the world comes from their well-rehearsed mastery of the medium from which they create. When they combine those skills with the raw emotion of a moment in a particular place we can feel and relate to the image revealed. Particularly in times such as this, it is as if their art allows them to work through their vulnerability, fear and pain. And sometimes, they can bring grief and hope together. Like a jazz musician, artists are able to improvise to release the creative expression.
Ukrainian artist Sana Shahmuradova told NPR, “My brain got very much blocked. I heard first explosions and it took me a week maybe, to get back to drawing”. She was unable to bring her art supplies with her when she fled to the countryside. But a full heart can overcome a blocked brain and she has found scraps of wallpaper to use as canvas and charcoal, crayons and boiled beets to express hope in one image of a mother feeding her baby.
An illustrator of children’s books and fairy world illustrations from clay and paper, Valeriya Kamelkova, posted an image of the Russian flag with child’s hands reaching up through the pool of red—a pool of blood?-- for something to hold them. In her interview with NPR she reflected, “We fall asleep to the sounds of sirens and wake up from explosions, count the surviving relatives and friends and hope that TOMORROW will still come.”
Thousands of miles from Ukraine, I watch and listen to the reports of each day’s fighting. I cannot physically DO anything to help alleviate the suffering. And I struggle with the feeling of helplessness. The images from reporters in Ukraine leave me numb.
But it is the art that allows me to release my own tears. It is the art that connects me with their perspective and culture. It is through the work of the artists that I see glimmers of light shining in the darkness. The art can serve as the centering reflection for my prayers.
Just one picture can paint a thousand words. This blog is roughly 900 words and yet, any one of the images from the artists mentioned here tell far more than what I have been able to write.
May our hearts connect with the suffering in the world
that we not take for granted the blessings around us.
May our prayers lift far and wide as we utter words of peace and healing
knowing that we have no answers as to how that will come.
May the work of our hands be offered in humble service
toward peace where we live.
And as we continue the Lenten journey, may we approach Holy Week with keen awareness of the violence and hatred which led to the execution of Jesus those centuries ago and rest in the hope and power of the Easter surprise.