Summers meant raspberries and grandma for artist Ilona Za Kuzniatsova. It was there she learned the value of hard work, but also where she made friends. While mom and grandma weighed and sorted the day’s pickings, Ilona would feed the maggots to the spiders who seemed to come when she called them. She watched as each spider had its own unique technique for taking care of the meal she had provided. These countryside summers taught Ilona that she was an integral part of the natural world.
When I started to travel, I realized that nature is very different and infinitely beautiful. But again and again in countless amazing places I see plastic bottles and garbage. To fight it, I deem it is necessary to talk about man as an inextricable part of nature.
Ilona’s environmentalist vision is embodied in projects that combine recycled materials and traditional methods with an innovative twist. Indeed, the variety of her work is a direct result of an avant-garde approach. With her artistic skills, she shakes the consciences of modern humanity as she addresses major socio-cultural and environmental issues.
Ilona’s work is undeniably feminine
That time with grandma also imprinted a respect for traditional handicrafts. “Belarus has deep traditions and diverse crafts. Women created yarn, woven fabric, sewed clothes and embroidered amulet symbols. My grandmothers have a lot of embroidered napkins, tablecloths and bed linen. Handmade work has always been appreciated in my homeland. So, all of that craft is undeniably feminine. For a long time it was almost the only way for a non-noble female to express herself and create something beautiful and artistically significant. It’s vital to remember that, to pay my homage and respect to generations of my suppressed ancestors.”
photos by PILOTENKUECHE or supplied by the artist.
between man and nature
The creation of a utopian reality is part of Ilona’s artistic concept. In a fast-paced world, she focuses on the bond between man and nature. History has proven that societies collapse when that relationship is not in balance. Her project here in Leipzig focuses on the forest. Ilona first came across the topic of German forests in Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse. In it, he cites Germany as an example of successful forest management.
Despite a strong historical passion for the woods, according to Deutsch Welle, by the late 1970s the decline of the forests had become apparent. In the 1980s in Bavaria alone, 2.5 million hectares of woodland had been visibly damaged by pollution. Vast numbers of trees in the fabled Black Forest of Baden-Wuerttemburg were under threat. The shock ran deep when reports became commonplace that the spruce and fir were dying. Acid rain, an airborne poison that originates in factories, power plants and automobile engines was blamed.
In a heartfelt plea to the German Parliament, ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl warned, “The damage to our forests is dramatic. Our forests are of inestimable importance for the water cycle, for our climate, for our health, for our recreation and for the identity of the German landscape. If we do not succeed in saving our forests, the world in which we live will be changed beyond recognition.”
Kohl’s pleas were heard. When Ilona first came to Germany she didn’t find a dying forest, but one that reminded her of fairy tales and the experiences of her youth. She has been back several times and continues to be inspired.
a walk in the woods
Now in Leipzig, as an international resident at PILOTENKUECHE, Ilona is collecting material from literature and her time in green spaces. Her plan is to seek out and sketch as many species of plants as possible. This will take her to Leipzig’s Botanical Gardens and the many wooded areas that make the city so welcoming to nature lovers. Luckily she’s here just in time for berry picking.
written by Emma Arrivati and maeshelle west-davies
You can find the latest work by Ilona at our upcoming exhibitions.
Sat 20 Aug 7PM
Mon 22 – Thur 25 Aug
Sat 17 Sept 7PM
I am where you are
18, 20, 21 Sept