Ontario artists use their talents and unusual mediums to reflect the Russian invasion of Ukraine


Around the world, artists have voiced their support for Ukraine as Russia continues to wage war in the Eastern European country.

These artistic responses can be seen flooding social media, in traditional gallery spaces, or even on the streets and other public spaces.

In Ontario, Barbara Salsberg Mathews is one of many people who turned to a creative outlet after the Russian invasion began in February. the artistbased in Guelph, said she felt motivated by her concern for Ukraine to create an artwork she calls Mad Vlad.

“My mother is a Holocaust survivor. Her parents were murdered when she was a child. So I deeply feel the pain of what the Ukrainian people are going through, and the antidote really is kindness coupled with action,” Salsberg said. Matthew.

Salsberg went on to describe the mad vlad work of art, which is made entirely of food. It is a medium with which she became familiar more recently.

Mushrooms for the hair, and old parsnip for the nose, and a potato chin. All of these elements make up ‘Mad Vlad’ by Guelph visual artist Barbara Salsberg Mathews. The design is now being sold on t-shirts as part of a fundraising effort for Ukraine. (Barbara Salsberg Mathews)

She began using food as a medium shortly after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which affected her dominant hand which she typically uses for painting and drawing.

“With my mother’s background as a survivor of a war…and my own loss to my body movements with Parkinson’s disease, it makes me realize that this is it. Life is so precious, really. We should do something positive and use our time here to make the world a little more beautiful. That’s what drives me,” she said.

Ontario artist Barbara Salsberg Mathews says her art often combines humor and action. (Provided by Barbara Salsberg Mathews)

Using materials like rotten parsnips, hot sauce and cured meats to create a portrait also tends to attract public attention, Salsberg Mathews added.

“It makes them laugh. And then they’re better able to look at the situation, the seriousness. And isn’t that so threatening at first,” she said, referring to her cooking streak.

History repeats itself and art imitates life

The artistic response to the war in Ukraine, and public reactions like that described by Salsberg Matthews, come as no surprise to art historian Kristy Holmes.

The associate professor from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay said that as you travel through art history, there are countless examples of critical depictions of war, especially in 20th century art in particular.

Kristy Holmes is Associate Professor and Head of the Visual Arts Department at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Provided by Kristy Holmes)

“Before the 20th century, a lot of the images we have that have to do with war often glorify war and glorify military and military victories. And in the 20th century, that’s something that’s changing,” Holmes said, who presides over the university. visual arts department.

“I see a lot of parallels between the avant-garde movements that were really focused on critiquing the war. And what’s happening now, because most artistic responses are critical of that war and also very empathetic, in especially towards the Ukrainian people.”

PHOTOS: Murals, graffiti and other artwork supporting Ukraine

The avant-garde movement is known for its bold, experimental art that pushes boundaries and creates change. Holmes said other such examples have raised awareness of movements such as Black Lives Matter, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and other instances of conflict.

These artistic responses can help people engage with, and even better understand, moments in history. Holmes said images sometimes have greater power over people and can be a great teaching tool.

Kristy Holmes says the majority of students in her art history classes are visual artists. She says more than ever her students are seeing how history repeats itself in modern times. (Lakehead University Visual Arts Department/Facebook)

This power is something that Holmes sees his own students begin to harness, particularly as they study art history and events in Ukraine make their way into classroom discussions and lectures.

“There is an important historical legacy of art and the power of art to get people to think differently, to be critical, and to be part of that legacy,” she said.

“As practicing artists right now, they’re the ones who can do it, who have the power to get people to see the world and see things differently and critically.”