Ukrainian hopes her Easter egg designs can bring peace, funds to wartorn home


Effervescent coloured tablets haven’t normally been the process of alternative to dye Easter eggs. In Ukraine, in which pysanka, the artwork of egg decorating, dates back far more than 1,000 decades, the custom is taken to a whole new level of intricacy. 

New Yorker Sofika Zielyk specializes in the artform. Evan Kleiman first interviewed her in 2007. Simply because of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia now, Superior Foods decided to revisit the society of these eggs.

The pursuing job interview has been edited for duration and clarity.

KCRW: I just want to say formally that I am just devastated, and I’m so sorry for what you and your pals and family who are living in Ukraine are going by.

Sofia Zielyk: It is horrific. We have loved ones in Ukraine. My mothers and fathers came to the US as refugees soon after Environment War II, and they constantly talked about their ordeals. But when I see all the pics and movies on Television set, now I know precisely what they went through. And seeing my distant kinfolk going as a result of the exact thing in Ukraine ideal now is just heartbreaking. I by no means, ever believed that this would transpire. So thank you pretty, quite a great deal. And I thank all the people today all all around the globe for their assist. It truly signifies a large amount.

Are you acquiring any sort of solace in your get the job done?

Certainly. In the to start with handful of times, when Russia invaded, I, as everybody else, was glued to the Television set and constantly emailing my mates and kinfolk in Ukraine. I could not do any work. It was as if I was heading via the stages of grief. At to start with it was shock and disbelief, then it was utter sadness. And then it was rage. I consider when I was in the rage section, I sat down at my work table and I began executing an egg. And that calmed me down. I just went into this meditative condition, if you can get in touch with it that. And it genuinely can help. Ideal now I sense related with the people in Ukraine. I don’t know how else to clarify it. But it truly is like this very little thread from New York from the East Village, all the way to the bad people today of Ukraine.

You lately stated in an Instagram publish that “Everyone defends them selves with weapons they know most effective. As a pysanka artist, my weapon is an standard egg.”

There is a quite previous pre-Christian legend that suggests there is an terrible monster chained up in the Carpathian Mountains. This is in western Ukraine. And every single 12 months, he sends out his spies into the entire world to see if individuals are developing pysanky. If men and women are, the spies come back and tighten the monster’s chains. But if the spies never come back again, mainly because individuals are not producing pysanky, the chains grow to be looser and looser. Sooner or later, the monster will get free, and it will be the finish of the environment. 

I actually commenced a venture at the Ukrainian Institute of America in this article in New York. I set out a social media submit about this legend and about this monster, who is evil personified. And we all know who that is right now. And I am asking most people who cares to make a person regular pysanka style and design, and mail it to the Ukrainian Institute for an artwork installation. And this is my way of defeating the monster, of defeating evil personified.

Far more: These intricately embellished eggs are increasing dollars and good needs for Ukraine

For people who have by no means witnessed a Ukrainian embellished egg, can you explain what they seem like — the colours, the types, and the background of those patterns?

This is an particularly historic tradition. In pagan occasions, our ancestors lived with and in accordance to mother nature. Everything they could not reveal, they spelled out by the electrical power of character spirits. Inevitably, those people spirits turned personified and pagan gods have been born. In the winter season time, individuals assumed that the god of the sunlight was leaving them due to the fact the times grew shorter and the evenings grew for a longer period. So they experienced a spring ritual to provide again the solar. They selected an egg as a reward to the sunshine for a few good reasons. 

Selection one particular, birds fly bigger in the air, they’re considerably nearer to the sunlight than people were being. So when the individuals held an egg in their fingers, they assumed they could harness a minimal bit of the energy of the sun. Amount two, the yolk reminded the men and women of the sun. So it was the sun’s graphic. And the third rationale was that the sunlight god had a selected creature, the rooster. When the rooster crows, the sunshine comes out. So the solar god only listened to the rooster. And what the individuals did, they incorporated symbols of tribute and distinctive prayers in the hopes that the sunshine god would grant them the wishes. 

Sofika Zielyk describes an old, pre-Christian tale of a monster chained in the Carpathian mountains. In accordance to legend, if persons develop pysanka (Ukrainian Easter eggs), the monster’s chains are tightened. Photo courtesy of Sofika Zielyk.

So for instance, if they drew a chick, it was fertility, a pine department is health and fitness, a flower is happiness, a deer is our prosperity and strength. The star rosette, which is an 8-pointed star, was the symbol of the almighty solar god. And this custom was handed down from mother to daughter in top secret, so that no person else could see you creating a pysanka for the reason that they could possibly forged an evil eye on the style and the sun god would not grant them the want. 

You can find so considerably symbolism and record. And then, when Ukraine adopted Christianity in the 10th century Advertisement, this tradition was included into the Christian religion. So pretty normally a single symbol has a double meaning, like the pagan and the Christian. For case in point, the cross [that’s] equivalent on all 4 sides was the symbol of the solar himself. And as Christianity grew additional important, the horizontal bar went up and it grew to become the Christian cross. And now these eggs are recognized as Easter eggs. But in pagan moments, it was a spring ritual of rebirth of nature, of obtaining the solar back again.

Begun in pagan moments and adopted into Christianity close to 10 A.D., pysanka is a spring ritual of rebirth of nature and the return of the solar. Picture courtesy of Sofika Zielyk. Photo courtesy of Sofika Zielyk.

How outdated were you when you 1st uncovered how to adorn the egg?

I was about five or 6 [when] I in fact built my very first egg. I remember slipping asleep and seeing my mother sitting at the desk with a candle, an egg, and a stylus. It was so tranquil, so magical, that I remember it till this working day. … I recall climbing up on my mother’s lap and with each other, we produced an egg. And I imply alongside one another because this is completed with a candle, a stylus, and scorching wax. So [for] a 5-yr-old, it truly is form of dangerous. But I remember that style and design. It was just stars, lines, and circles. I don’t forget that moment quite nicely.

So it really is a wax-resist process on a hollow eggshell?

Yes and no. It can be a wax resistance technique on an egg that is complete within. Traditionally, there was no issue in earning the patterns on an egg shell, since there is certainly everyday living within the egg. And the yolk reminded the individuals of the sunlight. So if you blow out the within, you don’t have the power of the solar any more. So it was quite significant to go away the yolk inside, and eventually the yolk dries out inside. So it truly is definitely no trouble. It really is batik on an egg.

The patterns on Ukrainian easter eggs are symbolic — chicks stand for fertility, flowers are happiness, and a pine department is an omen for great wellbeing. Picture courtesy of Sofika Zielyk.

What variety of dyes do you use?

In olden days, these were being strictly handed down from mother to daughter. These were being mystery dyes of roots, berries, flowers, and even nuts. But now these are particular chemical dyes produced particularly for these kinds of eggs.

If you get gifted an egg, do you at any time take in it? Or are they held as keepsakes during the a long time?

You are unable to take in what is inside since it is really not hard-boiled. Initially, these eggs were not intended to be kept for a very long time. There were makes use of for them. During the Lenten season, of training course they were being designed. And then as the Easter time approached, they were gifted to other individuals. And there are regulations on who to give which egg. For case in point, if a girl or somebody is sickly, they would get a pine branch for wellbeing. A boy would get toughness and prosperity, which is either a deer or a rooster. 

There were [other] makes use of for them. They were being ground up in cattle feed so that the cattle would be more healthy. The shells would be buried in gardens so that there would be a better harvest. An egg with an eternity symbol was put in beehives so there would be continual honey. When a property was currently being developed, an egg was put on the 4 corners of the household so that no evil spirit would come. When a younger kid died throughout the Easter season, a pysanka was put in the coffin so that the baby would have one thing to engage in with. There are all these traditions on what to do with the eggs. Of course, now they are functions of art, and they can be retained 12 months just after 12 months. But typically, no, each 12 months new eggs have been manufactured.

Patterns with deer symbolize prosperity and power, and are usually provided to boys for the duration of the Easter season. Photograph courtesy of Sofika Zielyk.

Has your art adjusted more than the several years?

Sure and no. I adore carrying out the traditional layouts. When folks begun immigrating, they introduced with them all their traditions. But inevitably they forgot the symbolism. And the emphasis now was not on the symbols by themselves, but on the perfection of the models. I begun doing what are regarded as the diaspora eggs, which are eggs that are pretty intricate and you attempt to do imperfectly. Which is the way I commenced. And then I started out delving into the record of these eggs and I observed what the regular types were being like. And I started out carrying out that. So I researched the styles that are quite previous, you can say historical, even. 

And I still carry on carrying out the diasporan designs, but [when] I lived in Ukraine in 2014 to 2015, I was lucky enough to obtain a Fulbright grant, and I was researching how folks artwork motivated Ukrainian great artists of the early 20th century, like Sonia Delaunay and Kazimir Malevich. I started to make egg patterns in their inventive type. Nonetheless, I could not do something if I experienced not initial researched the standard layouts.


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