Sonya Iwasiuk has spent the better part of her life connecting history with art.
Her mixed media installations — some of which will be on show at PoMoArts, starting Jan. 14, as part of an exhibit titled A New Resilience — tell stories about the past that resonate today.
These are tales about people escaping their homelands because of war, poverty and discrimination in search for a better life in Canada.
But, two years ago, Iwasiuk’s own narrative about her familial roots took a twist as she was creating her immigrant series.
Born in St. Boniface, Man., Iwasiuk was raised in northern Alberta by her mother with Ukrainian descent.
Her great-great grandparents were among the first wave of Ukrainians to move to Canada, arriving in Montreal in 1900. They hopped on a train to Alberta and were given a plot of land to farm; however, because of their ethnicity, her ancestors weren’t treated well. Later, the government told the family to leave the property because they had made a mistake.
Family folklore has it that the area’s First Nations members led the pioneering couple to a more suitable site to homestead: One with so much fish in its creek that they jumped out of the water when the wagon wheels passed through. That area came to be known as Stry, a tiny municipality northeast of Edmonton.
Over the years, her ancestors built up the land and settled into their Canadian life. And, in her art, Iwasiuk used her family as a reference point to convey the struggles of immigrants and their want to fit in.
She wandered prairie homesteads — many of them abandoned — to look for discarded materials to replicate for her work, never pillaging the properties. With her newly created objects, she experimented with ways to bring the immigrants’ stories to life: The metal pieces or tiles presented tangible history and provided aesthetic, she said.
Two years ago, though, the Vancouver resident took a DNA test.
And though she knew she was adopted, she understood her roots to be Ukrainian as well. “It showed I wasn’t Slav at all,” she said. “My blood goes back to the British Isles. My birth mother is Welsh… but it doesn’t matter. I feel Ukrainian and I was brought up Ukrainian.”
Her hope with A New Resilience is for viewers to talk about their own heritages, and be kind, considerate and empathic toward new Canadians.
A New Resilience will be Iwasiuk’s first solo display at PoMoArts and, on Jan. 14, she’ll speak about her exhibit — as well as her frequent travels to the prairies — in a Facebook Live event, at 7:15 p.m. (go to pomoarts.ca for the link).
Also opening Jan. 14 at PoMoArts (2425 St. Johns St.) are shows by Mat Holmstrom (Timeless Pastimes) and Ghislain Brown-Kossi (Are We Still Together?). The three displays end Feb. 15. Visit pomoarts.ca.