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Handcrafting revolution: Ukrainian avant-garde embroidery and the meanings of history

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This article investigates the point when craft revival and avant-garde innovations merged to create objects that combined traditional peasant skills with innovative Suprematist compositions. The peasant craft revival in the Ukraine, which has been little studied thus far, aimed to raise the national consciousness of the local population and to preserve the disappearing handicrafts. Several avant-garde women artists, such as Natalia Davydova, Alexandra Exter and Evgenia Pribyl’skaia, headed the craft revival workshops. The Suprematist embroidery created in these workshops was a combination of many layers of historical meaning, from the reduction of formal artistic elements to the technical complexities of the embroidery, wherein one layer was topped by another to create a textured three-dimensional effect. Created during the period between the two revolutions and on the verge of World War I, when Russians and especially Ukrainians were attempting to negotiate and define their national identity, the question arises as to how these objects can illuminate the artists’ and the workers’ understanding of that period. How could participation in the workshops and the design work enrich and/or change the experience of the artists and the workers? This article analyses the processes and meanings of craft production and consumption to explain the complex relationship between artists and craftspeople, between handicraft revival and avant-garde practice.
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Keywords: Alexandra Exter; Kazimir Malevich; Olga Rozanova; Russian Empire; Suprematism; Ukraine; Verbovka; embroidery

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Guelph, Canada

Publication date: 2012-05-04

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