Without honesty in life, there is no honesty in art...
Ola Rondiak, a graduate of Hunter College, grew up in Ohio in a Ukrainian family. She studied art in both Ukraine and Hungary. Her paintings stem from her family’s experiences living in Ukraine, the events of WWII, Stalin’s Iron Curtain, the Orange Revolution, and the Revolution of Dignity. The Orange Revolution in the fall of 2004, signaled the emergence of a new civic movement--a political resistance group, people from all walks of life, that banded together to forge a red light on the ruling class’ fraudulent election processes. Abrasive weather notwithstanding, Ukrainians staged nationwide nonviolent protests now known as the Orange Revolution, as well as the Revolution of Dignity in 2013. These events shaped Rondiak’s worldview; emotional experiences began to surface in her paintings, family history intertwines with Ukrainian history and tradition.
Ola lives and paints between Kyiv, Ukraine and New York City. Some of her recent exhibits include the Tauver's Gallery International, in Kyiv, The Delaware Contemporary in Wilmington, DE, the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukrainian Embassies in Berlin and Munich, Odessa Opera House in Ukraine, Nymphenberg Castle in Munich, and Ukrainian National Museums in Cleveland, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. Her paintings can also be found in private collections throughout the world. Ola's artwork is currently on display at Zorya Fine Art Gallery in Greenwich, CT. Upcoming exhibits include Ukrainian Institute of America, in New York on May 4th and Rome, Italy in July.
Rondiak's iconographic portraiture of Ukrainian women depicts their “determined and indomitable spirit.” Often referred to as “Pop art” or “folklore,” her work recalls the icons of the Byzantine period, where Imperial and Ecclesiastical-sponsored proliferation of busts of saints and figures of the Virgin Mary lined basilica walls, retables, iconostases, and altarpieces.
Ola's portfolio consists of oil paintings, acrylic paintings, acrylic on cardboard, plaster of paris sculptures and mannequins, video installation, and acrylic and paper collages incorporating a number of mediums including pencil, oil pastels, and markers. Her "Motanka" sculptures were on exhibit at the Mystetskiy Arsenal in June 2017 in Kyiv and can be viewed again at the Ukrainian Institute of America, in New York in May, 2018.
My grandmother's story greatly influences my work...
The piece below is from my Behind the Lines exhibit in 2017.
Embroideries from the Gulag
In 1943-1944, during the second Russian invasion of Ukraine in WWII, Ukrainian intellectuals and nationalists, Ola Rondiak’s grandfather among them, were forced to flee from their homeland to Western Europe or face certain death at the hands of Stalin’s secret service (NKVD). A sympathetic Russian soldier warned Ola’s grandfather of his imminent arrest and he set out on foot, with his daughter Maria, Ola’s mother (then eleven-years-old) for western Europe. His wife Paraskevia Michniak, Ola Rondiak’s maternal grandmother, stayed behind with their other daughter who was ill and immobile. The plan was for the family to reunite later. The reunion never happened. The daughter, Ola’s aunt and namesake, never recovered and passed away in Kolomiya, Ukraine in 1944. On March 28th, 1947, Paraskevia was arrested by the NKVD, charged under Statute 20.54.1.A “Assisting the Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA)” and sentenced by a military tribunal to 25 years of hard labor at the Women’s Strict Regime Prison in Mordovia, Russia. There was no trial, no court, and no judge.
While in prison, at great personal risk, Paraskevia began embroidering religious icons at night, by the light of the northern latitudes. She used cloth and threads from her clothes and fish bones for needles. In 1953 Stalin died, and in 1956 Nikita Khrushchev granted amnesty to political prisoners who were victims of Stalin’s repressions. Paraskevia received her “Certificate of Rehabilitation” on July 2nd, 1956 and smuggled the embroidered icons (which were strictly forbidden by Soviet authorities) out of the prison by sewing them into her clothes. Unable to join her family in America due to the Iron Curtain, she returned to Kolomiya, Ukraine after which a written (albeit censored) trans-Atlantic correspondence began with Ola’s grandfather and mother. In the late sixties, an American tourist successfully smuggled the embroideries to her family in the west. Paraskevia passed away in 1975. She was well-known for her sewing, drawing, embroidering, and traditional cooking skills. This is only one story of millions of displaced, imprisoned, and repressed Ukrainians in WWII.
Since independence in 1991, Ukrainians have struggled to fight the forces of corruption and Russian influence. Ola Rondiak witnessed the Orange Revolution (2004) and the Revolution of Dignity (2014) first hand. Her collage “Maty Revolution”, a symbolic completion of her grandmother’s partially completed prison embroidery, captures the struggle of Ukrainians to move towards European values of openness and democracy in the face of a tyrannical regime.
In March of 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine in the Donbas region. To date, the casualties include 2,777 non-combatant civilians, 3,714 Ukrainian soldiers, 3,599 hybrid Russian forces, and 400-500 Russian regular forces. The death toll climbs daily.
--- “Behind the Lines”, Ola Rondiak, August 2017