A perfect example is Daria Kalashnikova, a refugee from Ukraine who has made a new life in Rīga and quickly blazed a trail in the art world with her bold performances, paintings and, perhaps most importantly, an amazing ability to get things done.
Most recently that included the opening of a solo exhibition at the EU House in Rīga, as previously reported. LSM asked Daria to tell us more of her remarkable story.
In May, I came to Rīga just to take a closer look at the city. At that moment, Latvia and Lithuania were the only countries in Northern Europe that I had not yet been to. I studied in Estonia and Denmark, worked in Spain and Ukraine and traveled to about 40 countries in total.
On May 4, Latvia celebrated the Day of the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia. There were many billboards in the city, not only with photographs of 1990 in Latvia, but also with a photo from the Ukrainian Parliament in 1991. I really liked this photo of the Ukrainian MPs. That moment I felt that Latvia would accept me.
I am 33 years old and earlier I worked as an assistant to an MP in the Ukrainian parliament, in 2014-2015 I was an adviser to the Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine.
In 2019, I decided to dedicate myself to a more creative endeavor and applied to study performance directing in Denmark. But all my work is always saturated with politics. In Rīga, after I applied for a humanitarian visa, I immediately went to the Art Nouveau Museum. Leaving the museum on Alberta Street, on the building opposite, I saw a sign of the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art.
I went in, explained the idea of my performance “How long can this all last?” to the director Solvita Kresse. She liked the idea and helped me to find the Riga performance festival at the Latvian National Academy of Arts where I showed it for the first time.
The director of the festival Laine Kristberga has helped me with the arrangement of the shooting of the promo video of this performance. Latvian art curators Evarts Melnalksnis and Līna Birzaka-Priekule noticed me at the festival and invited me to perform at the Riga Summer Festival of Courage and Joy in August.
I really wanted to show this performance at the European Capital of Culture 2022 in Kaunas, Lithuania. I wrote to the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art in Kaunas, Lithuania. The deputy director Eglė Komkaitė-Baltušnikienė welcomed my idea with a great support and arranged the performance on the eve the Independence Day of Ukraine.
In September, I showed this performance again in Rīga, at the opening of the Survival Kit 13 festival. This is an international contemporary art festival and art curators from Germany wrote positive reviews about my performance.
At the same time, I’m painting conceptual visual art objects. The main one of my personal exhibition The Trait of Tireless Freedom in the European House in Rīga is called "Oranta".
The original Oranta is a mosaic on a thousand-year-old wall in the St. Sophia Kyiv Cathedral in Kyiv. This mosaic was made in the 11th century and still guards Kyiv. The idea to create Oranta in Rīga came to me while visiting a center for Ukrainian refugees in Rīga. There, representatives of the Red Cross provide Ukrainians with food packages. As I stood there, I saw long walls of carton packages. It impressed me a lot. I thought that Ukrainians really want to have a wall on which they can lean, to be protected. We need something that will protect us, as Oranta protects Kyiv.
That's why I created this art object for Ukrainians in Rīga. In it I use cereals from food packages for Ukrainian refugees. I used every seed in it as a precious gem. After all, the seed is a symbol of new life. The most valuable thing we have during the war.
In the creation of Oranta, I also used the motifs of the national Ukrainian doll - motanka. It is easily recognized, because a cross is always depicted on the face of a motanka doll. Later, I want to create a mural in Rīga with the image of Oranta, so that she would protect the city.
In 2013–2014, I was one of the co-organizers of the Euromaidan movement in my hometown of Luhansk. During the Euromaidan, I received a lot of media attention due to my colorful posters.
Then I dreamed that Ukraine would become a member of the EU and an EU House would be open in Luhansk. To my regret, in 2014 Luhansk was occupied by Russian troops and my dream did not come true. Later, traveling in Europe, I have always visited EU Houses in different cities. When I arrived in Rīga, I came to the EU House and proposed the idea of my personal exhibition. They supported me. This exhibition in an EU House is a dream of mine.
I’m not glad that it took place after I had already survived two wars, but I know that the path to the dream is not easy. For dreams, as well as for Freedom, one must fight. I am Ukrainian, it is in my blood, so I fight for my dreams.
I have finished integration courses in Latvia and due to that I quickly understood the legislation, learned a lot of interesting things about the culture of the country. I also took training for Ukrainians on taxation from Tatjana Daudiša. She helped me to figure out how to apply for the status of a self-employed person in Latvia and now I pay taxes here.
In October I will start learning Latvian at the free of charge courses for Ukrainians. I really want to learn the language. I already have publications of my prose in Latvian, but the translation was done by the publishing house. Soon I will learn the language and be able to write the original text in Latvian.
I’m just Ukrainian, we always do our best, especially in 2022. Knock every door and at least one will be open.