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Time of Phoenix by Ira Lupu

Ira Lupu offers an intimate look at the changes wrought upon her homeland of Ukraine in new series Time of Phoenix.

People view an exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles
Exhibition of destroyed Russian military vehicles, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), Kyiv, Ukraine, 2022 © Ira Lupu

Ukrainian-born photographer Ira Lupu bears witness to the ‘enormous change’ wrought upon her homeland in new series Time of Phoenix.

The intimate images create an emotional connection with viewers.

Lupu invites the auidence to ‘care more’ about a conflict which has increasingly slipped out of the news.

Time of Phoenix has a different essence than the mainstream media photographs,” says Lupu.

“’Conflict zone’ is a cold term and a lot of photography we see coming from such ‘zones’ is objectifying, distancing and othering, if not exploitive.

“It is because a lot of it is shot by people who don’t really care – which ain’t bad and which doesn’t make their work less important – but it gives it a particular veneer.

Time of Phoenix is an intimate project produced by a Ukrainian who got home after a long absence to bear witness to the enormous change that has taken place, as well as to look for and find something dear and indispensable that is still there.

“Every photograph that I made is an epiphany and is full of love.

“I think it’s important to show more imagery that allows the viewer to sustain an emotional connection and thus understand and care about the issue more.”

A self portrait of Ira Lupu with a Ukrainian flag over her head
Self-portrait at Kuyalnyk estuary (assisted by Anna Kravchenko), Odesa, Ukraine, 2022 © Ira Lupu

Time of Phoenix

The exhibition’s title photograph features a girl in a black dress and rainbow-colored sneakers.

She is standing in a nature spot with a Ukrainian flag over her face.

Handwritten text on the flag says ‘Ours is the truth, ours is the victory’.

Below it is ‘Slava Ukraini’, meaning ‘Glory to Ukraine’, and the name of the military unit that signed the flag.

This is actually a self portrait of Lupu, taken with the help of a friend.

“This photograph conveys the idea of the Ukrainians being currently fully absorbed, and to a certain extent blinded, by the pressing matters of our homeland,” she says.

“For most of us, it is all about Ukraine these days.

“We breathe Ukraine, even though it hurts as we have to breathe through unthinkable amounts of excruciating pain.

“We are frantically focused on the much-wanted culmination point – our upcoming victory, our ultimate integrity, an end to all the suffering, and then, hopefully, a new blooming chapter.

“I believe the untroubled blue sky in this photograph is a hint of an optimistic outcome.”

A woman looks out over Odessa
Marina Overlooking Odesa © Ira Lupu, part of the In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns exhibition

In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns

The reverse side of Time of the Phoenix is a continuing display of In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns.

Showcasing Ukraine’s past and present, the exhibition includes pastoral archival imagery and recent refugee portraiture by Yana Kononova, Ira Lupu, Paraska Plytka-Horytsvit and Elena Subach & Helen Zhgir.

“Unlike a conventional gallery space with empty walls, Wembley Park’s outdoor exhibition space has a particular format of eight double-sided photo panels of a fixed size,” says Lupu.

“They are placed in a busy public space. The nature of the installation is that viewers look at it in a line while walking by it in one of the directions.

“My goal was to work within the given limitations and opportunities and make a selection of photographs that would thrive in a given format.

“So I’ve tried to come up with an interconnected story where photographs rhyme and speak to each other as a group, both visually and conceptually, but where each photograph stands out by itself.”

A giant portrait by Yelena Yemchuck on display at Wembley Park
In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns, Visions of Home, portrait by Yelena Yemchuck © Aron Klein, courtesy of Wembley Park

Visions of Home

Both Time of the Phoenix and In Ukraine: As My Heart Yearns form part of Visions of Home.

Curated by Lupu, the open-air exhibition includes photographs, site-specific installations, and digital artworks.

It explores how, for Ukrainian artists, a sense of home has been forever altered.

“My dream is to develop something that opens up the real beauty of Ukraine and its people,” says Lupu.

“A different take to the casual display of Ukrainian bodies we see in the global media.

“As highly important as such documentations are, their abundance tends to make people even more desensitised and distant to the tragedy.”

A house affected by Russian shelling in Ukraine as photographed by Ira Lupu
A civilian house affected by Russian shelling, Bahyrova Street, Irpin, Ukraine. 2022 © Ira Lupu

Exhibition details

In Ukraine, As My Heart Yearns is on display at Wembley Park until October 31.

Time of Phoenix is on display at Wembley Park until November 15.

Click here for more information on Visions of Home.

Lupu is planning a second trip home to Ukraine to continue the Time of Phoenix project.

From November 3-6 she will be at the Others fair in Turin, Italy.

She will be exhibiting Time of Phoenix and metaphorical documentary On Dreams and Screens.

The documentary explores the psychology of camming through the stories of Ukrainian and American online sex workers.