One day my husband bought me paint and an easel,” says Iryna Nikitinska on first taking up art in Canada. “The same day my children asked me to draw a dragon.” Nikitinska and her family moved to Vancouver from Ukraine in 2002. Although she had always been interested in drawing, she did not feel she could be an artist in Ukraine.
There is something about Canada which tempts artistic expression, be it through music, painting, or dance. Nikitinska says that here, “people look at you without trying to pigeonhole you, or think that if you’re an immigrant you can’t go out there and try yourself at things.”
Nikitinska’s parents had discouraged her from pursuing her dreams of being an artist or a literature teacher, and instead directed her towards more practical pursuits. “My parents didn’t see it as a future, it wasn’t supported,” recollects Nikitinska. Yet, years later, even while excelling at her university studies in applied mathematics, Nikitinska was nevertheless drawn to the fine arts.
Several years after settling in Canada, Nikitinska and her husband met an artist friend who painted occasionally, and Nikitinska thought, why not I? She painted many dragons that year to entertain her young family, later transitioning to landscapes and most recently, people.
“Right now I’m more interested in drawing people, specifically women of the past,” she says. Her impressionist paintings depict women adorned in dresses circa the 1930s, evoking nostalgia for a different epoch.
A member of the Burnaby Artists Guild, Nikitinska has also been accepted into the Federation of Canadian Artists. She says that her next step is to find a permanent gallery for her work.
Nikitinska says simply that “you feel free here; you don’t feel judged for drawing something silly.” She says that if she were to try being an artist in her home country, she wouldn’t be accepted or recognized because of a lack of formal education in art. “I’d be an outsider…but here, if you want to draw and have the skills, but not the education, you can still do it.” She pauses to add, “There is freedom of choice.”
Nikitinska sees language as one of the biggest barriers for immigrants interested in the arts. However, she encourages them to be flexible and to try to get out there to overcome their fears. “All my barriers are within me” she says, “not in other people. If I say I can do something, then I can.”
Vancouver Gypsies find their voice
Yury Luchyshyn has been overcoming his own barriers lately. Having come to Canada from Belarus a few years ago, he decided to attend an Eastern European-themed party. His dance and singing skills unexpectedly got him noticed by an artistic director and he was recruited into the Roma Gry Show – a Vancouver-based gypsy music and dance group.
Luchyshyn says that while the Gypsy people are nomads and face many hardships, their music and dance are very free-spirited, and lively. “It’s also a mystery that their folklore is so popular, despite the Gypsy people themselves often being mistrusted and labeled as thieves.” In Belarus the difference of attitude toward the people and their art is quite pronounced.
In Vancouver, his Gypsy troupe stays true to its origins, performing across the Lower Mainland and traveling as far as the Kootenays to promote the culture, music, and dance of the Romani people. Luchyshyn says he hopes to see a diverse crowd of music lovers at Roma Gry’s next concert on June 29.
Although Luchyshyn never thought he’d come to Canada to join a performing Gypsy troupe, with so many community art events, festivals and concerts happening in Vancouver, it is hard to stay away from one’s passion for too long.
To see Iryna Nikitinska’s art, visit www.irynanikitinska.com.
For more information on the Roma Gry Show, check out www.romagry.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.