Becoming Artists

Art: A Compass for Refugees Navigating War and Displacement

In a changing world, life can shift in an instant. For Ukrainian families, February 2022 marked a profound and unexpected turn. With war descending upon their homeland, the familiar comforts of normalcy and security were abruptly shattered. Fleeing the conflict, many sought refuge in Stockholm and other picturesque cities. Yet, amidst this newfound scenery, could they truly perceive the beauty around them? Or did the vibrant colors of their surroundings pale in comparison to the trauma and relentless stress of war, which threatened to tear apart their homes and families? What does one see through eyes clouded with tears and uncertainty?

War and its Legacy in Fashion
Women weave for peace at Oslo Freedom Forum 2023, by invitation of Human Rights Foundation.

In the face of trauma, creativity and togetherness emerged as vital lifelines. The act of creating art together became a tunnel of light, guiding the Ukrainian refugees through the darkness of an uncertain future. Alongside Swedish families, they crafted camouflage nets to save lives on the frontlines, each net a testament to collective strength and ingenuity.Inspired by shared experiences, they inscribed words of hope and solidarity on various textile pieces, transforming old bedsheets and clothes from Swedish, Norwegian, Turkish, American, and many other homes into beautiful tapestries for peace and solace. These tapestries not only hold historical significance but also serve as a lasting legacy of war, symbolizing the resilience and unity of those affected by conflict.

Curator Ludmila Christeseva has been inspired by the stories and talents of Ukrainian women and children. She has recognized the need for creative expression and solace. She has brought mothers and children together to paint and weave massive textile installations, sharing their creations with Swedish and international audiences. ‘This is more than art,’ the curator claimed. ‘This is a true story of many lives who found hope and optimism in collective art production.’

The textile artwork 'Home' was successfully presented at Times Square in fall 2022.
The textile artwork ‘Home’ was successfully presented at Times Square in fall 2022.

The art collective, consisting of Ukrainian refugee mothers and children, is now globally recognized as Women of Artten, renowned for their series of weaving workshops uniting nations for peace. These workshops, known as Crafts that Unite, Heal, and Last, highlight the collective’s commitment to unity and harmony through artistic expression. The collection of textile artworks serves as symbols of resilience, unity, and the enduring human spirit, reflecting the hardship of wartime. Focusing on the circular fashion economy, peace, integration, and empowerment, Ludmila Christeseva successfully launched a series of exhibitions including Livrustkammaren (during Stockholm Design Week 2023), Oslo Freedom Forum (2023), and most recently, Oslo Virtual Konstpark (2024).

On February 9, 2023, a performing artist Nefeli Oikonomou presented her work “Weavers installationsperformance” at Livrustkammaren.

The narrative of Ukrainian refugees turned artists prompts a profound reflection on the essence of artistry and its relationship to formal education. It vividly illustrates that amidst turmoil, loss, and upheaval, the artist within can emerge, resilient and unwavering. Here, creativity becomes not only a means of expression but a beacon of hope and healing, a pathway towards forgiveness and community. Regardless of formal training, it’s a journey defined by the tumultuous waves of individual trauma, where artistic expression transcends conventional boundaries, unlocking doors to profound connections and boundless optimism—a testament to the transformative power of art, guiding one to find light in the darkest of times.