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Ukraine: An interview with Alexandra Oza

FROM REPORTING TO ART: AN INTERVIEW WITH FRENCH-UKRAINIAN ARTIST ALEXANDRA OZA

When the Ukraine conflict erupted in 2014, often referred to as the “Ukrainian crisis” or “War in Donbas,” stemming from the Ukrainian revolution of February 2014, I found myself residing in a picturesque neighborhood of Santa Monica, California, a stone’s throw away from the Pacific Ocean. It was during this time that I received news of my grandmother’s passing in Germany, whose origins traced back to this part of the world.

Shortly before her demise, reports of the tragic Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 incident, downed over eastern Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile, further underscored the devastating human toll of the conflict, claiming the lives of all 298 passengers and crew onboard.

My family’s ancestral ties to Bessarabia were disrupted by Soviet annexation during World War II as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which served as a poignant reminder of historical upheavals. Though I never set foot in their native village, I carried the weight of their displacement, their apprehensions of Soviet rule, and their wounds from being coerced or forced to leave and relocate under the policy of ‘Heim ins Reich’ (‘Home into the Empire’) imposed by Nazi Germany.

Amidst personal tribulations and aspirations, the echoes of Eastern European and Russian culture persisted in my consciousness, transcending politics, borders, and religion. From Rachmaninoff’s evocative melodies to Dostoevsky’s “Poor People”, the richness of Slavic culture intertwined with my own journey. And so, I fostered connections and friendships with people from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slavic nations, as well as with diverse backgrounds across Eastern Europe, such as Estonia, Georgia, and Hungary. Additionally, my interactions extended to Eastern European Jewish communities, enriching my understanding of the region’s cultural tapestry.

However, it wasn’t until 2022, with escalating geopolitical tensions and President Biden’s urgent warnings that Americans should “leave now”, that Ukraine demanded my full attention. The subsequent invasion crystallized the parallels between past and present displacements, reigniting my empathy for those impacted by this conflict. Suddenly, I relived my grandparents’ displacement, my mother’s early years as a refugee child, my father’s childhood in Berlin and the fear of the Soviet forces and his wish to live in freedom when he took off in 1955 from his hometown Köpenick and moved to West Germany.

On March 21, 2024, while navigating my own displaced existence in Paris, I serendipitously stumbled upon an art exhibit titled “Résonance de l’Âme: Une Exploration Artistique de la Guerre en Ukraine / Resonance of the Soul: An Artistic Exploration of the War in Ukraine” (March 21 – 27, 2024) at Les Vitrines on 4 Rue Saint Martin. There, I encountered Lyon-based Ukrainian journalist and artist Alia O., alongside sculptor Olena Voitenko and Alexandra Oza. Our shared concern for those impacted by war sparked a meaningful conversation about the universal language of human suffering, resilience, and our collective yearning for peace.

Subsequently, I was graciously invited by Alexandra Oza for a studio visit, where I learned more about her remarkable journey. Formerly known as Alexandra Zakharova, she transitioned from being a reporter to pursuing her passion as an artist. A graduate of the Academy of Arts and Architecture in Kyiv, she came to Paris in 2015 on a grant to study Sociology of Art at EHESS. Today, as an international award-winning multimedia artist, her work sheds light on pressing environmental and social issues, while also advocating for peace.

During the visit, Alexandra generously shared insights into her creative process, including her innovative double exposure technique, and her commitment to education as a Networking course instructor at Sorbonne University since 2019. A polyglot fluent in English, French, Spanish, and Ukrainian, with knowledge of Czech, Alexandra’s upcoming exhibitions at L’Espace des Femmes in Paris titled “Slava Ukrainia” (April 5 – April 26, 2024) and the one with her father, a sculptor, in the Czech Republic, underscore her multifaceted talents and dedication to art and social change.

Inspired by our encounter, I seized the opportunity to engage Alexandra in a short interview in front of the camera, capturing her insights and passion for her craft and telling us a bit about herself.

Sorry, for any imperfections, this I will work on in the future.

This is Alexandra Oza in her studio, with her fine art photographs displayed behind her. In her process, she captures 36 photos in one country, then physically travels to another corner of the globe to reload the film and document another set of 36 photos. Photo credit: ARETE/Simone Kussatz.
This image depicts one of Alexandra’s anti-war works, in which she employs military toys to convey the opposite effect. Photo credit: ARETE/Simone Kussatz
This photo shows the Olympus camera she worked with, which was previously used by a police department for crime scenes. Photo credit: ARETE/Simone Kussatz
Alexandra Oza in front of one of her art works that was part of the exhibition“Résonance de l’Âme: Une Exploration Artistique de la Guerre en Ukraine. It also shows a sculpture by Ukrainian artist Olena Voitenko.
Alexandra also creates jewelry, and one can see that it complements her photography. This photo is one of her environmentally inspired ones with mimosas. Photo credit: ARETE/Simone Kussatz

 

This image depicts Alexandra standing in front of war images taken by various journalists covering the Ukraine war, which were part of the exhibit. Photo credit: ARETE/Simone Kussatz
About the Author
Simone Suzanne Kussatz was born in Germany, lived in the US for 25 years, spent a year in China, and currently resides in France. Educated at Santa Monica College, UCLA, and the Free University of Berlin, she interned at the American Academy in Berlin. Holding a Master's in American Studies, journalism, and psychology, she worked as a freelance art critic in Los Angeles. World War II history fascinates her, influenced by her displaced grandparents and her father's childhood in Berlin during the war, and his escape from East Berlin in 1955. Her brother's intellectual disabilities and epilepsy added a unique perspective to her life.
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