Home April 2022 Light & Shadow

Light & Shadow

At the opening of the exhibition Mila Gokhman: Light & Shadow, on Sunday, April 24, the Merage JCC will be offering a special sale of art and design donated by Mila Gokhman, an 88-year-old Ukrainian-American artist of soaring creativity who was born in Kyiv and has lived in Orange County since 2000. All proceeds from the sale will go to Ukraine Response-JDC and Ukraine Crisis Appeal-JCC Krakow. The exhibition Mila Gokhman: Light & Shadow will remain on view through May 23, 2022.
    As a Jewish, self-taught artist, Gokhman began her career as an outsider who was hardly guaranteed success during the Soviet era, as well as after Ukraine gained independence in 1991.
    Nevertheless, between 1972 and 2000, her work was featured in a half-dozen solo shows in museums, former palaces, and other major venues in Saint Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), and her native Kyiv, and received extensive media coverage.
    From its inception, Gokhman’s art defied the dictates of Soviet Socialist Realism—the demands for a realistic art devoted to glorifying factory workers, farmers, and others toiling in the service of the state. She created instead an art that was abstract, improvisational, and expressive of self. In the intimately-scaled, leather panel pieces she began to create in 1967, narrow strips of leather are variously layered, twisted, coiled, woven, and set in radiating patterns. While many are abstract, the exhibition features two remarkable “leather assemblages” of the early 1970s, which offer highly divergent interpretations of landscape.
    In addition to her leather panels, Gokhman also became known in the Soviet Union as a pioneer in design, turning out leather necklaces, belts, and purses for the Soviet-run Kyiv Fashion House. For this work, she received no payment. Her compensation consisted of leather scraps with which to create her panel pieces and autonomous design work. Her leather wearables and accessories are both abstract and floral in design, and many stand alone as independent works of art. In 1977, Gokhman expanded her artistic practice further, beginning to create collages of meticulously cut and pasted papers.
     Yuliia Shylenko, the Chief Curator of the Taras Shevchenko National Museum, fondly recalled that when a retrospective of her art was presented at the museum in 1993, “The exhibition of Mila Gokhman’s works became a real sensation and an extremely bright event in the museum space of Kyiv.” Gokhman’s technically adventurous and innovative work was a source of national pride.
    In 2000, seeking broader exposure for her art, Gokhman left Kyiv and moved to Southern California. Lacking art world connections, she has spent the last two decades working in obscurity. Her only notable exhibition consisted of two-person show in 2010 at the Grand Central Art Gallery in Santa Ana, a satellite space of the University of California, Fullerton. Yet, she has continued to make art on a daily basis, creating abstract paper collages that radiate joy and movement.
    In 2021, Gokhman produced a series of 15 cut paper pieces, Light & Shadow, that celebrate the passing of the pandemic, several of which are included in the exhibition. These pieces have been gathered together in a book—Mila Gokhman: Light & Shadow: Improvisations with Selected Verses—in which they are interspersed with poetry in English and Russian by Boris Pasternak, Rainer Maria Wilke, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and others that have inspired her through her lifetime. This book, which will be available at the exhibition, was published by Liberty Publishing House, New York, in 2022. 
    While the exhibition’s title, Light & Shadow, conveys the light of hope, the shadow cast by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is extremely dark and weighs heavily on Gokhman, many of whose friends remain in Kyiv. The spirit with which she defied the Soviet system 50 years ago burns in her still. She is hopeful that you will join her in donating to Ukrainian humanitarian relief.
    For more information please contact Aliza Sable at: alizas@jccoc.org or 949-435-3400, ext. 305. 



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