Entering the realms of memory and nostalgia, artist and researcher Ayla Dmyterko seeks to deconstruct the surviving visual symbols and oral histories that surround a transnational, inter-generational Ukrainian-Canadian community. As part of her practice, these intersectional epistemologies are bound together by auto-ethnographic writing and studio-led investigations. To this end, Dmyterko is interested in the sites of return, reclamation, and interstice that co-exist in diasporic cultural memory.

Like wheat, drop it in the soil, leave it undisturbed and it comes springing up a hundred-fold. So it was in these peasant cultures. But for us to-day the soil is turned over once a week. It must indeed be a terrific hardy seedling that can come to fruition. 

J. Gordon, Peasant Art of the Subcarpathian Russia (1926)

Culture is thus something like an onion: an entity made up of many layers. To understand it and the people it represents, one must unravel the layers of cultural symbols one by one. 

Wsevolod W. Isajiw, Symbols and Ukrainian Canadian Identity (1984)

Identities are not monolithic blocks of ice that can be broken down with a frontal attack, but more like yeast dough: through the process of hybridisation, they grow larger than themselves, until their original form is no longer recognisable.

Boris Buden, The Art of Being Guilty is the Politics of Resistance (2011)

Baba Olya in Kudlai, 2018. 35mm photograph taken in Kudlai, Vinnytsia Oblast.

I. Introduction
Auto-Ethnography: Transmission through Acts of Self-Witness

As a third-generation Ukrainian-Canadian artist-researcher, my practice is activated by both theoretical inquiry and personal experience. Three generations removed, I was raised Ukrainian dancing, attending language school, cross-stitching, playing the fiddle and bandura. Transcribing my Baba’s[1] recipes from Ukrainian to English, I learned that there is no exact measurement for the perfect elasticity of perogy dough. As a child, I was taught to identify and celebrate my culture. Upon learning of the Ukrainian genocide, Holodomor[2], I was shaken and confused. Why this condemnation and cruelty towards Ukrainian people? Further investigating, I learned of the Canadian Internment Operations[3]—occurring during the early years of my family’s migration. These two historically and personally revelatory events are the igniting force behind my current investigation into Ukrainian-Diasporic memory and politics. As I unravel a history of depravity and secrecy in order to better understand collective hardships alongside more vibrant displays of cultural iteration, I critique diasporic identity politics in relation to projects of intersectionality and decolonisation.

Most urgent to my practice is not only the preservation of cultural memory or upholding a long lineage of peasant revolt, but rather examination of which diasporic tendencies are stabilised and destabilised amidst globalisation. Weary of projects that utilise the past to inform ethnocentric, nationalist, or insular identity formation, instead I am focused on how anti-oppressive strategies can gain momentum from dialogue occurring through intra-cultural education. I believe that the critical re-articulations of reciprocal epistemologies of the global south can help both humans and the earth reconnect in mutually beneficial ways. This research parallels the de-colonisation of the Anthropocene. For me, a main issue with the idea of this geological epoch is that it pins the decay of the earth onto all groups of people, while it is not all groups of people that caused it. Inclusion of voices in the periphery past can veer us from apocalyptic pessimism and blaming so inherent to capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism. 

Representing an ecology of knowledges unique to an individual, auto-ethnography is research, writing, and story that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political. Departing from traditional quantitative ethnography, acknowledgement of researcher’s subjectivity shapes the frames of analysis. In this case study, my voice is one of insider knowledge, privilege, and limited perspective.[4] Ability to travel freely to sites in Ukraine and Canada without complication does not represent the experience of all Ukrainian diaspora. My interviewee cannot enter the UK, where I live and work, without specialised permission as she is a Ukrainian citizen. Neither were my ancestors granted stay when they emigrated through the Glasgow Port. As settlers, my family were tools in the Canadian colonist project via The Crown, which caused acute trauma in indigenous communities. It is within the re-inscription of history ‘from below’ of those subaltern groups that we become aware that colonial situations “cannot be reduced to neat dualist representations of the colonisers versus the colonised.”[5] The hybridisation of cultures that occurred due to forced interaction during the Canadian settlement period contradicts this. Many forms of domination and assimilation are recurrent in this history, however affinities in experience are discoverable. Ukrainian history is one of oppression and continues to be today. I have never lived in Ukraine, and cannot experientially grasp what it is like to live in a climate of war. As a non-visible minority, I do not suffer xenophobia as many individuals in the wider diasporic community do. My generational advantage extends further as a woman studying internationally; education is a privilege not historically accessible for others from similar trajectories. I am blessed to be granted the time and resources to delve into subject matter so close to my heart. 

The auto-ethnographic text is informed by encounters with history and theory, generational returns (to both Canada and Ukraine) and interviews with Sylvia Dmyterko and Olya Kovalenko. Examples are integrated as a tool of poetic realisation: 

My father used to warn keep your mouth shut before dust gets in. Reminding me to be silent, as Baba and Gido did, and those before them. Intonating to recover what has been hidden beneath all of the dust; it’s been collecting too long. What is immediate is not only the stories that shape us, but how those that are suppressed do as well. Let it rise up, and billow; we are all speeding much too quickly for it to blind us now. Amplify voices of those never asked to speak, told to hush, hush. Teach me to dance in the room of your private rituals so I can dance beside others. There isn’t a manuscript, only a palimpsest. A requiem for ancestors with their quiet eyes flickering enigmatically. 

This consolidation presents a repertoire, which I embody through acts of studio-led intervention and expression, allowing the lessons to resonate somatically and with the present.

II. Narrative Inquiry Methodology
Mnemonics of Site, Image, and Objecthood

This understanding of the world is more pluralised than the Western understanding of the world, there is no global social justice without global cognitive justice, and emancipatory transformations in the world may follow grammars and scripts other than those developed by Western-centric critical theory—such diversity should be valorised. Boaventura de Sousa Santos further proposes for artists and researchers to know with, understand, facilitate, share and walk alongside rather than knowing about, explaining, and guiding.[6] In response to his call, this research utilises narrative inquiry methodology, a type of phenomenological research with a spectrum of tools and practices including life stories and interviewing. This approach addresses notions of (post)memory[7] allowing less-directly affected researchers and participants to become engaged through an ecology of memory and knowledges continuing after their ancestors are gone. 

Deconstructing nostalgia, Svetlana Boym distinguishes two approaches: reflective and restorative nostalgia; not necessarily separate entities, but rather divergent approaches to the past. The two overlap in frames of reference, but do not coincide in narratives or plots of identity. They use the same triggers of memory and symbols while concluding different stories about them.[8] Considering Boym’s dualism as a design to guide research prompts the researcher-participant to consider what they are highlighting in the past, the tone of reflection and implications of their gaze.

With these approaches guiding me, I began this research focused on the intersections and divergences between three Ukrainian-Diasporic women. Besides my auto-ethnographic take, the first participant is Sylvia Dmyterko of Treaty 4 Territory, Saskatchewan where she was raised on a grain farm, the second is Olya Kovalenko of Kudlai, Ukraine: a small village where she grew up on a honeybee farm and the third is self-referential. Although they no longer live rurally, their predecessors were part of a global group denied an official voice including peasants and women; an alleged uniformity of colonial discourse as concluded by Gayatri Spivak in her seminal essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. Through close examination of the private and familial, this Ukrainian-specific case study sheds light on the adverse effects of archival silence and epistemological oppression, in turn creating spaces of mutual understanding and dialogue when shared in broader contexts. 

Places, like memories, alter fluidly through time in relation to the manner in which they are exchanged, moderated, and exposed through different contexts. With the opportunity to accompany both Sylvia and Olya to their originary homes, we navigated Parkerview (Saskatchewan) and Kudlai (Vinnitsiya). Both locations are agriculturally rich, yet rapidly declining in population. From the bread basket of Canada (the prairies) to the bread basket of Europe (Western Ukraine); both lands have seen struggle over their rich soils and plentiful resources. Documenting via photographs and site-specific writing, I included personal thoughts informed by those of my guides, followed by later interviews addressing gaps. Aligned with feminist discourse, active avoidance of the term fieldwork is negotiated in alliance with de-colonial efforts. Instead, the use of generational return[9] is employed to describe the act of returning to a place (and sometimes places in time) that inform the world views and social folklore of ancestors. Historical accounts written ‘top-down’ coexist alongside these sites, yet should not be singular testaments. Locations deemed derelict are transformed into context for recollection to occur, realized through mnemonics. The land does not hold memories, but rather transcends and evokes lost legacies while vanished fragments can hold as significant as what remains. Focused on the female transferring and preserving cultural knowledge, recollecting the past can be accompanied by emotional response, acknowledging that feminist research is far from being a dispassionate process. There is emancipatory potential in life story research that restores a sense of self-respect, playing a role in identity formation beneficial for the researcher as well as respondents.[10]

Memory Work is “an active practice of remembering, taking an inquiring attitude toward the past and activity of its (re)construction. It undercuts assumptions about transparency or authenticity of what is remembered, taking it not as ‘truth’ but as evidence: material for interpretation, to be interrogated, mined, for its meanings and its possibilities.”[11] This process informed the auto-ethnographic text in this research through photographic analysis of both Sylvia and Olya’s familial archives. This tool of narrative inquiry utilises familial, archival, and self-produced photographs as prompts, props and pre-texts in order to set the scene for recollection. Images are partial, the repository of information within them may be outside the immediately visible; “to photograph is to frame, and to frame is to exclude.”[12] This silence, “fragmentariness and the two-dimensional flatness of the photographic image, moreover, make it especially open to narrative elaboration, embroidery and symbolization.”[13] The family photograph, once snapped, imposes an end, especially once it lays to rest in the album. In this memory project, the photograph is re-established as a site for recovery and illumination.

III. Analysis of Interviews and Auto-Ethnographic Text
Poetics of Perseverance

All of the above entry points inform the below analysis, alternating between interviews with Sylvia and Olya, as well as auto-ethnographic excerpts. This style of presentation is chosen to portray emergent patterns and themes in relation to contemporary theoretical de-colonial and feminist discourses. These include: assimilation and hybridisation, Solastalgia and the Anthropocene, proto-sustainability and female knowledge as enigmatic and therefore historically oppressed. 

A resonant theme is cultural assimilation. This is evident in hybridised regalia:

The wedding party in this photograph wears a fusion of traditional dress alongside western fashioning. My grandfather tailored sheepskin coats before his emigration; why doesn’t he boast his masterpieces? Were they aware of their assimilation, or did they truly wish to become naturalised citizens of the west (Canada) while they fled communist collectivisation in the east (Ukraine).

Sylvia further observes: 

I learned of their cultural dress through stories and through the few pictures […] The clothing in the photos were what we now think of as traditional costumes, but to them it was their daily casual wear.

A similar portrayal of assimilation is apparent in Olya’s familial photographic archive:

The ceremonial Rushnyk: embroidered on days when intentions were best, these long cloths are created by the hand of a bride to be. During her wedding ceremony, it is laid out for the couple to step onto simultaneously, symbolising balance and harmony in their future union. It is later hung within her home as a reminder of sacred vows, an effigy prayed to daily. This photo shows the practice continued, although the bride has opted for a westernised white wedding dress. A portrait of Lenin looms above her rather than that of god. This traditionally pagan ceremony occurs in an Orthodox church, under the communist curtain.

Another theme is perseverance through this assimilation:

Tymko made buckskin coats in Ukraine; who Maria travelled to this new land to settle with. Promises of ‘a new life’ in the propaganda were hopeful. What is held in these blurred expressions? Is the snow permeating the cracks in their boots slowly crippling in on once hopeful souls; has the colonist promise of fruition faded through countless hardship? They are standing on land I know and grew up running about freely as a child, yet I know now that this expanse of territory’s sky is heavier than the rock-filled earth below it. It has seen the struggle of the land, between the Indigenous People and the Crown as well as the deflated realisation, its failing as a vast beacon of hope by early ‘othered’ settlers. A yearn to become closer to understanding this history motivated my generational return to the farm where my mother grew up alongside her ten brothers and sisters. Knowledge through private memory at the Byblow Farm[14] is specific to my family, however further considers the 180,000 Ukrainian people who migrated in the early 1900’s, used as tools of the colonist project of what is now Canada, deemed as “beasts of burden who were biologically suited to the hard labour needed to homestead on the virgin prairie.”[15] My mother describes that when the first family arrived in Canada it was autumn. They dug into a hillside for the first winter, which to my own experience is nearly intolerable in the prairies. When it becomes minus forty, you can hardly blink fast enough before your eyelashes turn to icicles. 

Rarely focusing on misfortune, Sylvia further highlights this resilience in her recollection: 

Theirs is a story of strength, innovation, and perseverance. Land had to be manually cleared prior to the purchase of horses. Luckily they had a wealth of environmental, gardening, and farming knowledge to enable basic survival. They left [Ukraine] due to their oppressive environment where they worked very hard but had little to show. They had plentiful crops, but were not compensated for their labour or the goods they produced. The Ukrainian people were cruelly treated by their oppressors. The Western Ukrainian land was occupied by Austria and Poland at the time of my ancestor’s immigration to Canada. People were discouraged from speaking their native language; it was said that ‘there was nothing there for them anymore.’ They heard of inexpensive land in Canada and the opportunity to live independently.

Recovering excluded histories of these sites amplifies voices to bridges communities rather than dividing them. The prairies are a place of monumental suffering of indigenous people massacred during the colonist period; affects that continue today through imperialist failure such as the residential schooling system. In Canada, the “political gestures of containment, control and subjugation were part of a pattern of national behaviour.”[16] The reclaiming of whispered stories of the past comes from desire “to witness each other’s experiences of systemic racism, gender inequality, intergenerational effects of historical trauma, and the continuity of familial love, love for the land, values, resistance, and struggle for equality.”[17]

A similar iteration of perseverance is discussed by Olya:

My family was affected by Stalin’s repressions and laws as well as the war of Holodomor. My grandma’s parents died to home abortion and execution which left multiple pre-teen children to seek employment in order to survive. Grandma grew up hungry, her most common story surrounded a pot of porridge that was cooking in the house in which she was a serf. She was so hungry that she dared to take a spoonful, thinking that no one would notice. But her owner did and beat her. She always collected and ate crumbs off the table and never wasted food. While talking about hard times was not a taboo, it was not an easy conversation but a painful memory.

If this land could speak, it would lament volumes of hardship and oppression. During Olya’s family’s memorable history, her great-grandmother was shot alongside her cow in her fields. This difficult recollection was shared by neighbouring Baba Anya in Kudlai. When relinquishing this story, she expressed worry that she would not be granted entrance to heaven because of these experiences, none of which were in her control. 

This research suggests collective, familial, and inter-generational trauma rooted in both locations simultaneously, however many of the stories remain concealed. It is not necessarily the respondents withholding information, in many cases the stories were discontinued or censored generations before. It is common for survival of Ukrainian-Canadian oral recollections of state-led oppression to be vacant from histories. “The story was not merely forgotten or overlooked by Canadian society but actively suppressed, and, in some part, the internees and their families have been complicit in this expression.”[18] The project of imperialist expansion, in both Canada and Ukraine, undermined the foundations of family and respect inherent to those adversely affected. 

Nostalgia in the Face of Solastalgia

Nostalgia is defined by Svetlana Boym as longing for a home that no longer exists or never existed; a sentiment of loss and displacement, yet also a romance with one’s own fantasy. She continues to describe it as a yearn for a different time in the generation of ‘posts’ appearing as a rebellion against the modern idea of time, accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals. Nostalgia raises issues as it can become dangerously sentimental and misleading. In the worst case, it can provoke the emergence of insular identification and nationalist tendencies creating a “phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill.”[19] With sensitivity to complexities, she proposes two modes: restorative and reflective nostalgia. The second is ethically beneficial looking back within this ethno-methodological context as it reconsiders history with the inclusion of marginal voices through a parallel timeframe. 

Solastalgia is a neologism created to describe anxieties surrounding the Anthropocene and accelerated decline of the earth’s natural environment. Solastalgia’s synonym is eco-anxiety. The psychological effects it describes are of detrimental emotional and existential distress caused by global environmental decay and siloing of the individual so common in capitalist culture. As it advocates acceleration, speed and oblivion, the importance of community is deprioritised. Anxiety exacerbates in rumination, when thoughts are left alone racing to indeterminable futures. It has always reminded me of Nabakov’s description of the ominous whine of mosquitoes in the winter night. Unexpected because of the season, difficult to locate in the dark while their relentless potency overwhelms all senses. Moments of ease come when the mind is forced to remain present. This clarity can occur within congregation or contemporary therapy remedies such as mindfulness, writing, exercise, or listening to static.

Recognising reflective nostalgia as an approach amidst solastalgia can be beneficial if approached with counter-hegemony. Through this research, discoverable were slower paces of life rather than accelerationist lifestyles. This is evidenced in Sylvia’s account:

I return to the land where I grew up because there I find great peace and solace. The farm offers a quiet window to personal reflection, imagination and is a place of connection to family. I am allowed to take the time to hear wind in leaves, songs of birds and yelping of coyotes at dusk. There I have learned the cycles of life from watching seasons change and the progression of aging in both plants and animals. It is comforting and welcoming to see the diverse landscape and ecosystems that flourish together because they share space. The land is generous; each life yields a healthy bounty, mushrooms, berries, nuts and grains. The night is dark yet contrasted by a clearly visible blanket of stars that must be observed in awe while listening to its silence.

In Olya’s home village, Kudlai, the past is overgrown—a sanctuary forever reviving itself. There is an immediacy in juxtaposition of a quiet state beside ferocious growth suffocating retired soviet-era cars—signals of another time. This land symbolises inner landscapes and layers of time and multiple meanings. Olya’s description echoes:

Every time I return home, the sensation of smell and sound are overwhelming. The seasons contradict each other. I notice grey, gloomy days juxtaposed by crisp frost, slush and mud under my feet. It is an uninviting feeling but there is a fire stove inside that brings warmth. When you start that stove it makes a lot of smoke, eventually finding its way up the chimney as it heats. Inside the house, there is mother with the comfort of a cooked meal and hot tea. I struggle to get around, it is hard to stand at the bus stop in the cold but I know that the home will bring warmth. Even if it is still very cold inside, I can sit and listen to the fire crackling while it reflects on my face. In the summer, I walk along dusty paths, my shoes get dirty. I love the smell of cows, garden tomatoes, and clear summer nights. Showering outside feels like home; all other showers that I have taken in my life cannot compare. You have to earn that pleasure with a day of hard work in the sun, you have to start a fire and warm the water up—it is a ritual. I can feel the chill of the night on one side of my body and the heat of the water the other, then I switch. I collect shower water in my mouth. I spent most time outside in the summer; the colour so lush and green beside the smell of beeswax.

The warning to recycle is not a contemporary afterthought. Adaptability for peasants was vital to their survival. Modifying traditions based on new surroundings and materials available created unintentional hybrids, however rarely collected by ethnographic museums. In Sylvia’s archive, there is a recollection by her Aunt Olga describing this transition and furthermore a relevant lesson to carry today:

After harvest, dad would take bushels of wheat to the flour in Yorkton. He would trade in a number of bags for the winter and leave the rest in storage. The bags would be stamped in red and blue ink: ‘White Rose Flour.’ After using the contents, the bag was soaked, scrubbed, and bleached by boiling. When it was almost white, Mom would begin her sewing. One bag made a pillow case, four made a sheet, and double that for quilt covers. Sugar bags were used to make dish towels. As times improved, we embroidered on the towels and pillow cases. In those days, we all lived with make-shift recycled goods. We now think recycling is something new and innovative, no way—it’s been around for the last hundred years with clothing and all the goods we used over and over again, because of necessity and not overloaded garbage dumps.

Respect for ancestors and the incorporeal corresponds to a deep respect for the environment in Ukrainian culture. It is believed that there is an unknown world outside of the bodies we live in on this planet, and will need tools for survival there. Many artefacts and heirlooms have floated away to the afterlife in boat-like caskets. This practice cautions to not live based on material gain. Ukrainians set places for the dead. They do this because the dead are present, and the living resonate with the past. 

The rise of individualism alongside the move of many community-oriented rural populations into single-family urban homes is simultaneous with the decline of tradition. Wavering rituals and practices resulted from the disconnection from the natural environment and congregation; they become repertoires in isolation. Sylvia shares:

I am not fluent in the language, I had to learn the songs phonetically and did not always understand them. Later, I attended a Ukrainian language class and I regularly sew costumes for the dance group. As a child, we just did what was passed on from the previous generations, given the limited environment chosen by their parents and grandparents.

Olga’s experience was similar upon moving to Vinnytsia:

After my move to the city, I was not able to keep the traditions on my own. During my teen years, I practiced the rituals every time I visited home on the weekends. Since my grandma was the matriarch of the family, she was able to keep most rituals and traditions throughout her life but it has not been the same after her passing. Somehow, when I think of bringing them back it feels incomplete and unnatural without her. She was the biggest part of my culture.

The Last Generation of Babushkas

While in Ukraine, we visited remote farms and visited with Babushkas, the last of a generation. In the auto-ethnographic text, I recall a conversation:

Baba Olga worries that she is slowly growing crooked, and does not want to burden her family. She stressed that dating before marriage was utter nonsense. The often reverted back to her garden and the unpredictability of her potatoes. A sense of looking at life with humour and metaphorical elegy; to always remember that you cannot salt your kasha[20] with gold, and to be wary of those that serve you sour oranges for breakfast. 

Olya memorialises her own Baba:

She had an extensive collection of headscarves and wore them every day, she always hid her hair beneath it and never cut it. I always loved her beautiful long hair that she showed only on wash days. I loved combing through it.

Further mentioned by Sylvia:

I recall my maternal grandmother always wearing a kerchief or head scarf with very long braided hair underneath. She wore aprons with cross-stitch patterns and spoke the Ukrainian language most of the time.

The headscarf traditionally represents female modesty and indication of wedlock in Ukrainian culture. This said, the loss of some traditions is inevitable alongside contemporary feminist and human rights. A further dispute emergent in analysis is the paradox of female knowledge historically persecuted and them as guides of cultural transference. This mirrors major issues in global systemic patriarchy. Olya acquired traditions through her grandmother, however describes how this powerful knowledge was revered enigmatic and therefore dangerous:

My grandmother was known as a witch by some in our village. People that did not get along with her called her that. According to them she was a witch because she had black eyes. Grandma had the kindest soul and it was very upsetting for her to know that she made someone unhappy. What is most beautiful is that she continued to practice, and through the respect of the females following her found solace in her actions for her family. 

IV. Conclusion
Transcultural Education and Memory Studies

By focusing on cultural identities within Ukraine and identities within its diaspora through visually informed research, I aim to “rescue lost legacies, and to restore connections suspended by time, place and politics through translation, approximation and acts of imagination.”[21] The framework theoretically described and practically demonstrated throughout this text and subsequent artworks further set the scene for transcultural education. This creates spaces for transference interstitially among researchers and viewers intervening in similar contexts aiming to challenge dominant discourses that exacerbate capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. This utopic proposal can be fulfilled depending on precisely how the narratives are gathered, arranged, embodied, and translated. Acts of cultural recall in the present[22] through ethics grounded in (post)memory and reflective nostalgia allow the researcher to imagine a world free from oppression of knowledge, resources, and love (of self and others). A final excerpt from the auto-ethnographic text:

The disorienting chorus harped an elegy for the future, its syncopation of voices reverberating a loss of balance. As it crescendos, I’m left to wonder if this is as futile as the moderated historical past? Is there a repertoire for reactivation or is it an invitation to lamentation? The photos of my ancestors speak to me in whispers from mouths carved similar to mine yet in a tongue I do not understand. In this proposed current geological age, humans antagonise major shifts of environment and climate; the epoch connecting the social to the natural—regenerate and heal. Can regeneration and healing occur through generational slippage? Can these practices become as seriously considered as the academic discourses that sorted out how things work, how things become and how to think—yet have not solved what to do about any of it? Collaborating with temporality as it slips so feverishly through our fingers. Discarding knowledge is mimicry of abused power. Will the polyphony harmonise when we all realise that we were too busy thinking to act? 

With experience as an Art Therapy Instructor for recently migrated refugee women as well as gallery and outreach community educator, I have witnessed learning as a key tool in shedding light on connections and understanding among diverse world views. It is imperative to negotiate ways to include the histories of cultures aside from my own, for this methodology to be utilised as a research tool in affective qualitative research outside of this small focus group. I also believe that “it should not be the researcher alone who benefits from the findings [and that the] project outcomes should be shared as widely as possible and not least with the project participants themselves.”[23] This is achieved through sensitive modes of sharing, building platforms to create connections that break down essentialism in order to facilitate empathy. Education assists in overcoming difference, while ignorance breeds separatism and misunderstanding. Moving horizontally temporally, this methodology expands on cultural experience, providing space for interpretation and discussion. Core are emergent themes that unveil themselves throughout the exploration. Important is how the researcher questions these in convergence with other researchers’ findings; one culture, even one human story, provides a counter-situation for the other.[24] Aimed at stimulating learning through spaces of cultural interstice[25], its benefits for collaborative learning and creation are manifold. Articulated in a statement by Ojibwe artist Carl Beam: 

“My works are little puzzles, interesting little games of dreaming ourselves as each other. In this we find that we’re all basically human… my work is not fabricated for the art market. There’s no market for intellectual puzzles or works of spiritual emancipation. I ask viewers to play the participatory game of dreaming ourselves as each other. In this we find out that we’re all basically human.”[26]

This research methodology’s outcomes vary depending on the memories excavated and the autonomous ontologies of the researcher and participants. It will differentiate in expanse dependent on the development of realisation and opportunity to disseminate. Through workshopping and sharing platforms, an extended network of meanings connect the familial, cultural, psychosomatic, economic, social, and historical. This method does not discredit or ignore, instead it “acknowledge[s] alternative interventions”, in turn, confronting the “monoculture of scientific knowledge and rigor by identifying other knowledges and criteria of rigor and validity that operate credibly in social practices pronounced nonexistent by metonymic reason.”[27] This resonates alongside the urgent need to dismantle capitalist individualism and hierarchies of knowledge. Focusing on decolonisation (of the archive, library, and academic institution) toward inclusivity of race, gender and class in curriculum will dismantle institutions that remain disproportionately white, male, and upper class. A major factor in this research’s successes is access; to time and travel for the researcher, respondents and communication with other researchers willing to embark on parallel projects. I was able to travel to Ukraine and Canada, however I believe the interviews and memory work would be more evidential if all participants could be together as part of a discursive dialogue. Time has not yet provided me the opportunity to expand the project alongside other researchers, however informal conversations have begun. 


[1]  Baba is phonetic; Ukrainian for Grandmother

[2]  Between 1931-34, over 4 million Ukrainian people died by forced starvation in Holodomor via the Soviet Communist Collectivisation project. It has been deemed globally as a genocide. 

[3]  The Canadian Encyclopedia defines internment as “the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime.” It goes on to explain: “large scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First and Second World Wars. In both cases the War Measures Act was invoked.” Up to 8,000 Ukrainian men, women and children were forced to relocate to these camps as enemy aliens and allies of the Soviet Union. Roy, P. (2013/18) Internment in Canada. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/internment

[4]  Insider Knowledge, here, refers to: “the person who has a greater and shared cultural understanding and knowledge”; she warns of its “inherent pitfalls as it could lead to a tendency towards universalising from shared subjective experience.” Ilic, M. & Leinarte, D. (2016) The Soviet Past in the Post-Socialist Present: Methodology and Ethics in Russian, Baltic and Central European Oral History and Memory Studies. New York: Routledge, p.7.

[5] Dommelen, P. (2006) ‘Colonial Matters: Material Culture and Postcolonial Theory in Colonial Situations’ in Tilley, Keane, Küchler, Rowlands & Spyer (Eds.) Handbook of Material Culture. London: Sage Publications, p.108.

[6] de Sousa Santos, Boaventura (2014) Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide. New York: Routledge. p. ix

[7]  Hirsch, M. (1997) Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. London: Harvard University Press, p.22.

[8]  Boym, S. (2001) The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, p.49.

[9]  See more: Hirsch, Marianne (2008) The Generation of Postmemory. Poetics Today 29:1. Tel Aviv: Duke University Press.

[10] Ilic, M. & Leinarte, D. (2016) The Soviet Past in the Post-Socialist Present, p.4.

[11] Kuhn, A. (1995) Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. London: Verso, p.186.

[12] Sontag, S. (2003) Regarding the Pain of Others. England: Penguin Books, p.41. 

[13] Hirsch, Marianne (2008) The Generation of Postmemory, p.38.

[14]  Byblow is my mother’s maiden name.

[15] Satzewich, V. (2002) The Ukrainian Diaspora. London and New York: Routledge, p.38.

[16] Semchuk, S. (2019) The Stories Were Not Told: Canada’s First World War Internment Camps. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, p.XLl. 

[17] Semchuk, S. (2019) The Stories Were Not Told, p.XXX1.

[18] Semchuk, S. (2019) The Stories Were Not Told, p.Xl.

[19]  Boym, S. (2001) The Future of Nostalgia, p.XV.

[20] Kasha is a term used for cooked buckwheat in Ukrainian culture. This aphorism is similar to saying you cannot butter your bread with money.

[21] Hirsch, M. & Miller, N.K. (2011) Rites of Return: Diaspora Politics and the Poetics of Memory. New York: Columbia University Press, p.10.

[22] See: Bal, Mieke, Jonathan Crewe and Leo Spitzer (1999) Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover: University Press of New England regarding this term and its applications. 

[23] Ilic, M. & Leinarte, D. (2016) The Soviet Past in the Post-Socialist Present, p.4.

[24]  Semchuk, S. (2019) The Stories Were Not Told, p.XXXVll.

[25]  “It is in the emergence of the interstices—the overlap and displacement of domains of difference—that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated. […] Once again, it is the space of intervention, emerging in the cultural interstices that introduces creative invention into existence.” Bhaba, H.K. (2004) The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, p.8.

[26]  Beam in Allen J. Ryan (1999) The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art. UBC Press, Vancouver/Toronto, p.151.[27] de Sousa Santos, Boaventura (2014) Epistemologies of the South, p.189.

Other Sources Used:

Gordon, J. (1926) Peasant Art of Subcarpathian Russia. (L. Hyde, Trans) Prague: Legiografie Plamja.

Isajiw, W.W. (1984) ‘Symbols and Ukrainian Canadian Identity: Their Meaning and Significance’ in Visual Symbols: Cultural Expression Among Canada’s Ukrainians. M.Lupul (Ed.). Edmonton: CIUS Press, p.119.

Buden, B. (2011) ‘The Art of Being guilty is the Politics of Resistance: Depoliticizing  Transgression and Emancipatory Hybridization’ in Atlas of Transformation Groys, Jameson and Zizek (V.Havranek & Z.Baladran, Eds.) Tranzit, p.273.

Bal, M., J. Crewe and L. Spitzer (1999) Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover: University Press of New England. 

Clandinin, D. J., & Huber, J. (2010) ‘Narrative inquiry’ in B. McGaw, E. Baker, & P. P. Peterson (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (3rd ed.). New York: Elsevier.

Clifford, J. (1997) ‘Museums as Contact Zones’ in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Kuhn, A. & McAllister, K. (2006) Locating Memory: Photographic Acts; Remapping Cultural History Volume 4. New York: Berghahn Books.

Leavy, P. (2009) Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. New York: Guilford Publications.

Loginovic, T. Z. (2011) ‘Manifesto of Cultural Translation’ in Groys, J. and Zizek (V.Havranek & Z.Baladran, Eds.) Atlas of Transformation. Tranzit.

Spivak, G. (1988) Can the Subaltern Speak? Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Ayla Dmyterko (b. Treaty 4 Territory, Saskatchewan, Canada) works between Glasgow and Montreal. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art in Painting and Printmaking from Concordia University and a Bachelor of Education in Dance and Visual Arts from the University of Regina. As both an artist and educator, she is a lecturer in Postgraduate Academic English for Creative Disciplines at the Glasgow School of Art and volunteers as an English tutor for refugee and newcomer women. Recipient of the Mackendrick Scholarship (2019), the Karabin Fund (2020) and GSA’s Access Scholarship (2020), she was also awarded a work-study trip by the Polish Consulate for her achievements in painting. Selected exhibitions include Hush Hush (Hague Gallery), The Tale Began with a Beet (Projet Pangée) and Intermittence (Gallery Aux Vues). She looks forward to her upcoming solo at Lunchtime Gallery (Glasgow) and participating in Ritual & Lore, a collective show at The Art Gallery of Regina.