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Our Children Are Fighting Too: Ukrainian Artist Alina Zamanova discusses processing the war through art

Image: 'Our Children Are Fighting Too' by Alina Zamanova at The Smallest Gallery in Soho. Photo by Philip Levine.

Since the 24th of February, 2022, Ukrainian artist Alina Zamanova has been documenting the war that has broken out in her country. Her work explores themes of freedom, hope, and terror that the people of Ukraine face on a daily basis. She often paints children and women whose lives have been irreversibly damaged or lost in the war, as well as an artistic self-portrait series using soil as pigment entitled War Diary, showcasing her own thoughts, fears and emotional trauma that the war has caused. Her latest piece, titled Our Children Are Fighting Too, is currently on display at The Smallest Gallery in Soho.

Ralph Barker: Hi Alina, it’s lovely to speak with you. Let’s start with a bit about your recent work. Your War Diary pieces are (understandably) incredibly emotionally charged. How important is it for you to use art as a way of processing and communicating about what is happening in Ukraine?

Alina Zamanova: Hi! It is a pleasure to talk with you too, and thank you for giving me the space to talk about Ukraine and share our story with your audience. 

When the full-scale invasion started on the 24th of February 2022, the feelings that we experienced here in Ukraine were hard to explain, and really difficult to re-live even inside of our heads. After a week, my body had to release the emotions through art, and that’s the only reaction I could have; art is what I was born to do. It was so natural to respond to everything that was happening through drawing and painting that I didn’t think that there was another way for me to live. Alongside painting, I was working in a volunteer centre that was set up immediately in our village, where we all evacuated in the western part of Ukraine. So we were spending a lot of the time with internally displaced people like myself and my family, living through war all together like a big family. Art was the only way for me to respond to the war, but also it helped other people to connect to Ukraine on a deeper level and help us. We are grateful for all the support!

Ralph: It would be great to hear more about your artistic process, and the decision to use Ukrainian soil and natural pigments. What inspired this?

Alina: One year ago I asked myself a question about what makes me who I am. For the first time in my life, I felt grounded and happy standing on my Ukrainian earth and breathing in the fresh air. That feeling was so strong that I started looking under my feet and I wanted to bring that grounded feeling into my art. That's when I went to gather natural soil material around the Kyiv region last summer. I started working with Ukrainian soil only three days before the war started but I had the material ready for one year. For some reason I felt I needed time to connect to the material more before painting with soil. For now, I am using my Ukrainian soil pigment only for self-portraits that I am making during the war days to always remember what we’ve been through and how strong we become every day as Ukrainians and humanity.


Image: Artist, Alina Zamanova

Ralph: Can you tell us about the symbolism of the children in your piece being presented at The Smallest Gallery in Soho?

Alina: Children are our hope and our future. They are the reason we have been fighting since day one of the war. When I met children in evacuation, I really felt within my whole body as though there was little purpose in life. They were still children, but in a way they are understanding what is happening in their home, and, with pure intentions, they are fighting for Ukraine as well. I wanted to remember that moment within the painting and give as much as I could in the space and energy to our children. 

Ralph: Talk to us a little about the background of the images - what do the two holes represent?

Alina: I didn’t want to show the utopian ideal world that our children will have when we win. I always try to be honest with my art and I wanted to show the reality that our children are living in and what they are going through in Ukraine during the war. And the reality is that it’s been bombed by Russians - our Ukrainian soil has scars on the ground. The children in the painting are standing in front of all that, with the future represented by the two sunflowers looking at the children, facing them like the children are the Sun. 

Ralph: Who are some of your artistic influences?

Alina: Before the war I was always looking for inspiration in nature, and through exploring works by some contemporary artists as well, including Jenny Saville and Tracey Emin. Right now I am exploring the life and work of Ukrainian artist Tetyana Yablonska. 

Ralph: How important do you think art is in times of great turmoil and stress?

Alina: I think it is very important because art connects people and we must be connected right now in order to feel sympathy or love towards each other. Also when a person goes through trauma, then they often turn to the arts, choosing to no longer see those terrible images from real life. They might see the art as a response to these events, which is in a way freeing their soul from that horror. 

Ralph: Do you feel that the situation in Ukraine has impacted your artistic style? What was your art practice like before the war?

Alina: It completely changed my life, and my art to be honest. My art and life is now divided into before and after. My art before was about relationships between people - I was deeply exploring the emotions and feelings that our bodies hold. In a way I still paint this, but I am now responding to the current life I am experiencing, which is war. My practice has always been like this, I respond to my own experience through life. In this way, I can be honest with my art. I am an observer and I observe what is happening inside and outside of the body, and I don’t think this will ever change.

Ralph: Finally, what has it been like working with The Smallest Gallery in Soho?

Alina: The Smallest Gallery in Soho has provided me the platform to speak for Ukraine and for our children, and I will be forever grateful for such an incredible relationship that we are building with them, forever grateful for the support. They are doing an amazing thing by letting artists scream, in a way, through the window to the outside world. To be able to pin down the attention of a person, and maybe encourage them to stop in their busy London life and pause for a second through art, to inspire people.


To donate Please donate today to “Voices of Children”

Our Children Are Fighting Too
The Smallest Gallery in Soho

62 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QF

Running until December 2022 | @alina_zamanova

About the Artist:

Alina Zamanova lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine. Since the 24th of February, 2022, Zamanova has been documenting the full-scale invasion war in her home Ukraine. Living in Ukraine during this time, she is responding to the horrific but at the same time heroic scenes from occupied cities where Ukrainian people are protecting the freedom and future of the whole democratic world.


'Our Children Are Fighting Too' was curated by Smallest Gallery in Soho.

About The Smallest Gallery in Soho:

The Smallest Gallery in Soho (est. 2016) is a historic shop-front which faces onto Dean Street, in the heart of Soho. The aim of this intimate gallery is to display artwork that captures people’s attention on their journey through Soho and encourage them to stop, think and be inspired. It hopes to transcend the rapid changes of building developments and the dispersion of the creative cohort — that was once so vibrant within the area — by exhibiting free and engaging art works to view from the street. The Gallery is run by Philip Levine and Andreia Costa with the support from The Garage Soho.

About the Smallest Gallery in Soho Curators, Philip Levine and Andreia Costa:

Philip Levine

Philip has been working in the creative and cultural industries for the last decade as a producer. This has ranged from exhibitions, events, publishing, talks and creating his own unique artwork under the title ‘Headism’. He has gained a MA in Culture, Policy and Management at City, University of London. Being from London, his passion is knowing ‘who and what’ is up and coming in cultural trends and being involved within them. Read the Run-Riot interview with Philip Levine, here.

Andreia Costa

Andreia is an Associate Architect at Jamie Fobert Architects. She studied in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Porto and practiced for 3 years in her native Portugal. Before moving to the UK Andreia decided to explore her contemporary art interest by working in Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art as an architecture and art lecturer. In 2010 she joined Jamie Fobert Architects, where she has been involved in several projects including Selfridges and Tate exhibitions.

Image: 'Our Children Are Fighting Too' by Alina Zamanova at The Smallest Gallery in Soho. Photo by Philip Levine.

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