As tragedy unfolds in her home country of Ukraine, designer Victoria Yakusha yearns for a physical connection to her heritage. Presented by FAINA Gallery, which Yakusha co-founded in Brussels in 2014, “Stepping on Ukrainian Soil” is an homage to Ukrainian culture and traditions as seen through a contemporary lens. The collection of furniture and home decor is inspired by the rich black soil of Ukraine, and illustrates how the designer’s own sense of identity is still rooted in it. Displayed at the Design Miami/Basel’s Curio exhibition, these unique pieces tap into the essence and enduring spirit of Ukraine.
At the center of the collection is an incredible 6.5-foot-tall handwoven tapestry called “Zemlia,” which is made of wool. The tapestry evokes the black earth of Ukraine and the potential for life contained within it. Long woven strands stretch out from the base almost like umbilical cords, symbolically connecting Ukrainians now located in far-flung locations to their homeland. No matter where in the world they might be, nothing can sever this bond. The technique used to create the tapestry is an ancient Ukrainian craft called “lizhnykarstvo,” once passed down from mother to daughter in the Carpathian Mountains and now close to extinction.
Just as striking and primeval are the animal-shaped benches Yakusha calls “Volyky” and the stools she calls “Duzhyi.” The black and white benches take their name from the Ukrainian word for freedom, and are hand-sculpted and kneaded using a sustainable material called “ztista” that Yakusha developed herself. The designer’s physical participation in the creation of these pieces can literally be seen in the form of her own fingerprints pressed into the surface of each one. The technique is derived from a traditional wall finish in old Ukrainian homes.
“Duzhyi” means “sturdy” in Ukrainian, and the name is fitting for the very solid-feeling sculpted forms of the stools. While the benches bear a more obvious resemblance to sheep, the stools are animalistic yet abstracted. Yakusha doesn’t necessarily start with sketches when sculpting — she likes to allow the forms to come to her unbidden, springing forth from her imagination as she works.
Yakusha established FAINA in response to the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, which took place over five days in 2014. Through her creations, the designer aims to give a new voice to millennia-old traditions and crafts that are in danger of disappearing. Yakusha hopes her deeply meaningful designs will inspire other artists and contribute to a global perception of Ukraine not just as its own country with a distinct character and heritage from its neighboring invader, but as a living, evolving culture with much to contribute to society at large.
“A tragedy like September 11th is happening every week in Ukraine,” Yakusha tells Design Miami. “Russians destroy physically, destroy culturally, try to appropriate history, and suppress identity. The whole creative industry is having a particularly hard time with this because our strength is our sensitivity, and right now this sensibility is overwhelming… But we, Ukrainians, have huge power inside, and all our creativity will result in a beautiful outpouring for a brighter future for sure. To resist, we must be fearless in how we act, speak, and create. Fear leads to darkness.”