Relocation from the Ukraine to Poland: Elena Ulyanova
This is a story about hope and new beginnings, but first we need to set the stage… 2014 was a scary and difficult year for many people around the world, people that I actually “know”, even if it is a virtual relationship, not having met in real life. Daria Lvovsky of Art of Felting was posting videos of missiles she could see from her apartment window in Israel. She was terrified and eventually sent her kids to the US until things felt safe there again. Elena Ulyanova, in the Ukraine, talked about how awful things were becoming in the Ukraine as Russian aggression increased. I had some private emails back and forth with them and wanted to write about what they were going through. But, I felt so depressed about bringing this stuff up and I have been swamped for years now and have my own daily struggles to deal with… So, it slipped by. Daria’s kids returned to her and Elena, who had been very active in our private member Facebook group kind of faded into the background… The world is a mess! It’s hard enough to get through whatever we have right in front of our faces without having to suffer through whatever other insanities our world governments are inflicting upon its peoples, not to forget the forces of Nature, wreaking earthquakes, forest fires, tsunamies and what have yous every other month…
Then, Elena wrote me again about a fundraiser she was having. She had upped and left the Ukraine! I could not believe it! Can you imagine leaving everything you own, your family and friends behind? Ugh. It made me feel guilty and bad that I had not checked in to see how she was doing. I thought of Pastor Martin Niemöller, who ended up doing time in a Nazi concentration camp, famous quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
At some point we need to raise our voices! Of course none of us can “save the world”, but I am a fervent believer in the power of the group, the tribe. TAFA was founded on the idea that “together we can do great things!” (and I’m sure our members are tired of hearing me rant about that…). But, it’s true. Confucius said something about the individual not being able to change the government, the weather, or any of the big things around us. The only thing we can change is ourselves. I take this to mean that we make choices and work on what we can. And, there is nothing more satisfying than investing time and energy into something where we can really see a difference. Then, we find other people who think like we do and together we create a force. This causes change, even if it is slow.
This domino effect has rocked the world since the beginning of recorded history. The thing that gets me is that we see the same cycles of violence and of destruction, over and over and over again. Thirty years later a bloody conflict becomes a tourist resort. (think VietNam!)
Defining our Tribe
I’m still setting the stage here and this really is about Elena, but it is also about how we dance on this planet. Seth Godin, social media guru, defined this concept in a powerful TED talk. It’s from 2009 and getting a bit dated, but these 17 minutes are worth watching. It’s in my bucket list of “must watch, must remember” talks. He does a much better job than I ever could in explaining how we can create important changes, whether on a small scale or with monumental impact.
Please watch Seth:
So, now that you are pumped up, think about our textile community. We all have access to groups and people we know who are oiling those wheels of change, of experimentation, of skill. My main platform where I hang out is on Facebook and it seems like the number of people in our textile and fiber tribe is immense! In fact, the craft industry, just in the US, is a multi-billion dollar one, so the choices we make with our purchases (fabrics, threads, batting, scissors, and all of the time saving devices that are out there) are all employing people and fueling industry. Within that community, we have people that stand out. Usually they have an intense body of work that is consistent and that moves forward, showing maturity and reach.
We have a shared language, an interest that binds us together. I am not a weaver, but weavings can make me drool. Because we have struggled with our own tools and limitations, we can understand that another technique is important. And, for me, the knowledge that a person, someone with a story, stands behind that piece, has always been as important as the final result, whether they are living or dead. The textile tribe, especially, has such a wealth of history behind it! Because it is rooted in function and has the most impermanent existence, it sings the sagas of what has come before us and of what is to come.
I had brick and mortar shops for almost 20 years in Chicago where I worked with small importers and local artists. I often thought about how these objects, these textiles could live in harmony with each other while the people who made them were killing each other. A Palestinian embroidery could sit next to an Israeli one without a problem. This is one reason why I ended up working with products even though my education was geared towards social service. It was so much easier to share the language of technique rather than try to lead a political revolution or effect social change. Yet, everything we do IS political and social! Art is for the people and where we cannot speak with language or action, we can connect through a stitch, through dye, through the woven threads that bind us all together.
That’s my sermon. The stage is set.
What’s going on with Elena and how YOU can help
Elena tried to make things work in the Ukraine. When I first started to get to know her, she would share these posts about her latest eco-dyeing experiments on her blog. The woman is a scientist! She is an endless encyclopedia of knowledge on what leaf does what in this solution for how long on this fabric. I’m not a dyer. Far too chemical for me. But, I love, love, love her passion for what she does, for her dedication, her openness, her enjoyment of the community at large. Elena was experimenting for herself, bringing local students to her studio, and increasingly, traveling to teach in other countries.
Things got bad politically and economically in the Ukraine. She was having a tough time getting visas to travel and international students were scared of traveling to her. So, she left. Everything. When she told me what was going on, I knew that I wanted to help. I don’t have any money, but I do have some skills and I gave her some of my time and some mentoring. Here’s a video I made for her:
Elena needs our help! She has found a studio space in Poland where she can teach, create community, and grow to her maximum potential. She wants assistance to secure funds for one year of rent for this space. This will give her breathing room to adjust to a new country, a new language, and to make the connections that she needs to thrive. So, she has a fundraiser on IndieGoGo with the goal of raising $7,300. She could actually use a lot more than that as she needs tools, supplies, a new website (!!!), marketing budget and all of those other things that we don’t really think of but that are important for a new business.
Crowdfunding, which is what IndieGoGo does, is a great example of the Tribe concept that Seth Godin talks about. There are now many platforms, but they have become an important way of by-passing traditional means of funding, especially as so many foundations have tightened their belts or dried up. The arts, especially, have suffered profoundly as our world economies have been stressed by a variety of calamities. In this way, we can band together and fund what we think is important. And, I believe that Elena is someone who is worth investing in. Even if you never meet her or enjoy her talents, the knowledge that you helped her fly to meet her full potential should be something deeply gratifying. She is a gem. It is not easy to put your need out in front of people, but she has done it and hopefully, we, as a tribe, can meet it.
No money? Well, maybe there are other ways in which you can help. Share her campaign! Maybe you have supplies that you can send her…. Connect with her and see how you can be a part of her dream. Maybe you are a part of a group who could sponsor her down the road. This campaign is only for a month, but she has a lifetime ahead of her and all of this is about developing relationships that can last for as far as the eye can see…
Our place in the world
I want to say one more thing: we have terrible problems in the world. The environment is screaming and we are not listening. People like Elena, who seek to live in harmony with nature, are especially important because they work with, not against, the elements. They see Nature as a gift, as something precious to be treasured and honored. Meanwhile, we have stupidity against us. Massive, weaponized idiocy that is all about destruction, oppression, and power. History has survived these nuts in the past, but we are at the edge and I don’t know how much more humanity and Nature itself can take. I make a clear distinction between governments and their people, and even within governments, there are divisions. So, in my appeal for Elena, I am not speaking against Russians; in acknowledging Daria’s distress, I am not against the Palestinians. War is a horror and the victims are those who live through it, on every side. I find comfort that through all of this, we can all reach out to each other and that the more friends we have in the far reaches of the world, the less likely we are to bomb each other or to inflict pain. So, as an American, I am very conscious of what Niemöller said. If I remain silent, someday I might find myself alone. It will be too late! I want to build bridges and I think that our textile and fiber tribe can provide healing and strength, not only through our art, but through the humanity that stands behind it.
Together we can do great things!
Go donate: Elena’s fundraiser
About Rachel Biel
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