War embroiders grief and despair on every landscape it traverses, a battle for power for some and a struggle for survival for thousands of others. Amidst a similar humanitarian crisis posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an artistic resistance takes shape, a stirring reminder of the beauty that arises from the broken. Ukrainian designer, artist, and architect Victoria Yakusha epitomises the strong attachment every Ukrainian shares with their land in her latest furniture collection dubbed ‘Stepping on Ukrainian Soil’. The ensemble includes limited edition designs—handwoven, two-metre tapestry alongside a series of archaic animal-like benches and stools, each sculpted with the designer’s signature sustainable material Ztista. “Wherever I am, I feel pulled towards Ukrainian soil, I feel a need for physical contact with it,” says Victoria Yakusha, founder of the furniture design brand FAINA. “When you have this connection to your earth, when you feel your roots in her, there’s nothing more powerful. Our soil gives us strength, our soil reveals our own essence,” she adds.
Yakusha’s philosophy of 'live design’ revolves around earth and ethnic roots, a common thread that weaves her oeuvre together. Exalting Ukrainian artisanal craftsmanship, she meshes ancient knowledge and technique with her contemporary designs. Her tapestry Zemlia, a wool-woven design piece spanning two metres, speaks of Ukraine’s black soil chornozem, a befitting manifestation of its Ukrainian name that translates to ‘earth’. Reaching for the ground, the long strands iterate an umbilical connection to the homeland that Yakusha says has never been a mere territory, but a “source of power”. A fading Ukrainian craft ‘lizhnykarstvo’ finds itself at the core of the tapestry design, donned in rich layers ensconced one onto another, like live soil, never homogenous–a unison of ancestral knowledge and the author’s creative vision. “I wanted the viewer to feel the power of earth when seeing the tapestry,” states the designer.
Volyky, a derivative of the Ukrainian word for ‘freedom’, labels a series of furniture designs with animistic silhouettes and free character that was a result of the author’s idea “to create something life-affirming and pure in its nature”. Staying true to FAINA’s ideology, the benches hand-sculpted with Ztista–a blend of live elements conceived by Victoria Yakusha to one day be able to return to nature–channel a technique once employed for wall-finish in traditional Ukrainian dwellings. Joining forces with Duzhyi, a series of primitive stool designs, the compositions conjure a mystical prairie–source of the natural magic of the land.
Duzhyi stands for ‘sturdy’ in Ukrainian, encapsulating the unfolding yearning for firm ground underfoot that moulds the grounded, naive forms of the stools. Sculpted in FAINA’s trademark material, their uneven texture captures the mystery of their hand-sculpted creation and translates the energy of Ukrainian artisans in design forms, making every piece unique. “I don’t feel like I design my pieces, my designs choose me to give a material form to certain messages,” Yakusha shares.
Victoria Yakusha set up her eponymous studio Yakusha Design in 2006 before the inception of her design brand, FAINA, in 2014, eventually becoming one of the pioneering voices of contemporary Ukrainian design owing to her impactful creations. With earth and the revival of ancient codes and ancestral crafts at their heart, Yakusha’s designs vacillate between modern and primitive shapes. Presented by Faina Gallery, established in Antwerp, Belgium in 2021 as a part of Faina, 'Stepping on Ukrainian Soil' arrives in the midst of a conflict that devours the nation as a testimony of the strength of Ukrainian land, its rich history and an unfazed spirit.