Irina Sheynfeld

When the news came to me in 2016 of the final stages of the destruction of Aleppo, I often thought: What is it like to be from a place that doesn’t exist anymore? A place is not a person, even though it is a material thing and therefore can be rebuilt. Yet a city is more than a collection of its parts. There is something organic and irreplaceable about a place we have made our home. We all have only one place where we were born, and even if that place was complicated and we left it to find another home in a faraway land, our place of birth still holds a special space in our hearts. I was born in Odessa, a city of artists, poets, and musicians. A city of funny people, where a sense of humour is valued as one of the essential human virtues. My family lived in the same house on Pushkinskaya for four generations. As a little boy, my grandfather Leib watched Nicholas II, and then Trotzki roll down in their cars past our windows. Completely shaded by canopies of tall maples, my street ran from the train station to Pushkin’s monument that reigned at the entrance to Primorsky Boulevard situated above the port. As I write this, Odessa is not yet destroyed. The boulevards, the theatres, parks, monuments, and the Odessa Opera House are still intact. Many people have fled, but the city’s spirit remains: musicians play on the balconies between air raids, artists perform in front of the sandbag barricades, and swimmers still venture into the Black Sea despite the mines. Everything I am I owe to my parents and to my city. I left Odessa when I was sixteen years old after completing eight years of secondary school and one year at the College of Art and Theater. In New York City I studied illustration at the Parsons School of Design and I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for various publications, and now, I show my work nationally and abroad. In my practice, I use a wide range of media: pastel, watercolour, oil, acrylic, printmaking, and computer-generated mixed media collages.

Totems and Dreams

Her Journey by Irina Sheynfeld. Mixed media. 2021. 

In my work, I often explore how displacement and migration affect individuals and groups of people, especially women.

In my mixed media painting Her Journey, from the collection Totems and Dreams, I examine the fate of the women that were evacuated during WWII from Ukraine and Russia into The Far Eastern Republic of the Soviet Union–Uzbekistan. My grandmothers, Maria Verbuh and Vera Belokopyto, were part of said group. As Jewish women, they were lucky to survive, but they endured four years of famine and back-breaking labour for the war effort. In Her Journey, I highlight the roles that women play because we are often portrayed as victims rather than as active participants.

In the painting, I use photos of the real women, as well as photos of the letters from WWII, I also use a model in a costume for the central figure. The background is a combination of acrylic painting and photography. The colourful figures in the background are sculpted from paper mache.

Dream by Irina Sheynfeld.
Tree Dancer by Irina Sheynfeld. Mixed media.
Dream by Irina Sheynfeld.
Dream by Irina Sheynfeld.
Dream by Irina Sheynfeld. 

Hysterical

Courtesy of Irina Sheynfeld. Etching. 2021.
Hysteria 3 by Irina Sheynfeld. Etching. 2021
Hysteria 2 by Irina Sheynfeld. Etching. 2021
Hysteria 1 by Irina Sheynfeld. Etching. 2021

Watercolour Dreams, 2020

World by Irina Sheynfeld. Watercolour.
Biopsy by Irina Sheynfeld. Watercolour.
Friends by Irina Sheynfeld. Watercolour.
Red by Irina Sheynfeld. Watercolour.

“Once having gone in vain, you come again . . .”

Courtesy of Irina Sheynfeld. 2016
Lady Peel by Irina Sheynfeld. 2016.
She came undone by Irina Sheynfeld. 2021

Header image design by Orly Zebak. Artwork by Irina Sheynfeld. 

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