Ukrainian artist Sana Shahmuradova’s drawing of two women with a Ukrainian flag became part of the music video of Pink Floyd and Andriy Khlyvnyuk of «Boombox». Among most war-reflective art, Sana is distinguished by her simplicity, muted colors and her characters, namely women, who are almost always naked. Why women, why are they naked, and how did her work come to the founder of Pink Floyd? We are talking about it with Sana Shahmuradova, who has become the new hero of our column Meet
ODESA AND KYIV
Sana Shahmuradova was born and raised in Odesa. She began attending ballet school at the age of four, and a few years later she began studying drawing with an «elderly Jewish artist» who taught her the basics of drawing and introduced her to ancient Jewish frescoes and the work of Marc Chagall.
Sana left exactly for Odesa region, Podilia, to visit her grandmother on February 25, 2022 and has no plans to leave from there. The first bombings caught her in Kyiv: she recalls that after hearing the explosions and the morning call from her mother, who lived abroad and actually told her that russian troops were bombing Odesa as well, she gathered her money, documents, family icon, and went to the bomb shelter, which was located in a vintage store on a nearby street.
The artist has lived in Kyiv since 2020. She moved there from Toronto in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and has never regretted the decision, calling the last year and a half «the happiest period of her life».
«ALLERGY» TO COLOR
It was time for art school in sixth through eighth grade, but as Sana recalls, «there she was only taught how to draw still lifes, and they didn’t fully teach her, and in general her studies were terrible». «Art school» was to some extent the cause of her «long allergy to color» — she says that there they made her put several layers of colored watercolor on paper «until everything blended into muddy patches».
Despite the fact that one of the artist’s favorite colors is Prussian blue, she still avoids bright colors in her paintings. She values the depth of the pigment in the oil she works with:
«I like earthy colors, but even more I like the richness of the pigment, its versatility. I adjust to it more than it adjusts to me».
Learning to work with oil was a long-time dream of Sana’s, which she didn’t realize until she emigrated to Canada. Before that, she hadn’t painted at all for a long time, but after she moved, she started again to «overcome stress and depression». In 2018, Sana met Canadian artist Darby Milbrath, who painted in oils, and asked to be her assistant.
Darby taught Sana how to stretch canvases and work with oil, and continually pushed to find time to create despite her circumstances. They still keep in touch to this day.
«Even now she writes to me and asks if I paint, if I found paints, — Sana says. — I have something to paint with, but no surface, no canvas. She answers — draw on anything. I tell her that I’m afraid the work won’t be preserved. And she says that Munch painted without a primer, and I can do the same».
Normally, Sana paints on canvas, but with the outbreak of war, remnants of old wallpaper, tree bark, fireproof old cloth, old rotten and not rotten boards came into play. She finds it all in her grandmother’s barn, which serves as her studio. Working on unusual surfaces is different in that the artist doesn’t think about the final outcome.
«I basically never plan, but even so, I am always guided by the fact that there must be something ahead, the anticipation, the hope for the future, the expectation. Working with such materials is different and is as if a parallel to life during war, when you have to live one day, one moment».
According to Sana, her works have become more aggressive since the war began:
«I feel very traumatized and I think the works reflect that. I don’t know yet how we’re going to come back to life, because it’s a big trauma».
Now she paints more families, women who have «suffered and had to flee or lay down their lives for their children». Many of the characters are armed and at first the artist thought she was portraying despair, but then she realized that she was actually painting a faith that «just exists, no matter what».
Women have always been the main protagonists in Sana’s work. She clarifies that this is not a principled position and «it just happens»: «I don’t plan my work, I draw first, and then I find something in those drawings, analyze and reveal. That is not to say that men are absent from my canvases consciously and fundamentally. I am able to draw the male body and sometimes use masculine images».
Another peculiarity of Sana Shahmuradova’s works is that her characters are always naked. But there is no position of principle in this either, it is more comfortable for her. For her the naked body is a conventional mark of some action or emotion, so she sees no point in «adding to her work and dressing them».
In addition, when the paintings depict only women, their nudity is not perceived as something vulgar, reduced to instincts, but rather prompts thoughts of rituals, sacredness and mystery. At the same time, for Sana «the woman is the land we all fight for».
The artist never plans subjects for paintings –– they appear subconsciously: «And even if they appear consciously, they fall under the influence of something unplanned and random in the process of work».
According to Sana Shahmuradova, she does not have much patience, so she works quickly and keeps a diary, «dating and fixing the day and moment with her work». Now it feels like she works slower than before the war.
«Everything is harder, reality is too radical and unconsciously already needs a different approach. I’m still working on finding it».
The artist’s picture of two naked women with a Ukrainian flag destroying a russian tank became part of the music video of Pink Floyd and Andriy Khlyvnyuk of «Boombox». It was printed from a photo that Sana sent at the request of Ukrainian artist and set designer Janina Pedan (she chose the work), not even knowing that she was the daughter-in-law of David Gilmour, the band’s co-founder and lead singer.
«I was terribly pleased to be included in the video, especially considering how long it’s been since they’ve gotten together. It’s certainly an honor and a help. Especially now that there is an ambivalent attitude toward the war in Ukraine abroad. Because supposedly everyone supports us, but on the other hand there is this “supposedly” and it is very annoying. And it adds bonuses for us when people of such scale make an open statement to the whole world. It’s both a practical gesture, because they’re collecting money to help Ukraine, and a moral one», Sana says.
According to the artist, the uncertain attitude of many toward the war against Ukraine arose because Ukrainians have not claimed their history and «the constant genocide initiated by moscow» for a long time:
«We are now doing double work, explaining what Ukraine is and that russia has long been the aggressor. We were kind of shy, embarrassed to say so. My Canadian friends did not know about the Holodomor, but we had it three times. And it was all an artificial famine. For us it is something basic, we teach it in school, but we did nothing to get it recognized worldwide, like the Holocaust, for example. And we should have done it, just as we should have regularly emphasized that these actions were started by russia back in the time of the russian Empire, not even the USSR».
According to Sana, we need to keep telling the world community about russia’s wars against Ukraine, not be afraid to ask for money for the army and not just for humanitarian needs, emphasize that this is genocide and break the «neutral-loyal discourse in foreign news that russians are victims too».
Sana Shahmuradova’s Instagram.
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