Art from displacement and loss

(excerpt from the Los Angeles Times)

Born a refugee, Jenny Yurshansky (UCI, M.F.A. '10) creates works about migration and inherited trauma.

By Deborah Vankin

When Jenny Yurshansky’s parents fled Soviet-era Moldova in 1978, they could take only a handful of items with them— what would fit, essentially, into two small suitcases. No valuables were allowed, only essentials for survival; they could bring less than $300 cash and no documentation of education.

Michael and Rima Yurshansky stuffed clothing and blankets into their bags. Rima packed an embroidered infant’s hat and an alphabet baby book for her soon-to-be born daughter, Jenny. Yurshansky was born in Rome months later in January 1979, and her parents —asylum seekers at the time, waiting for permission to gain entry into the U.S. — eventually settled in Northridge. The objects they’d carted from Eastern Europe became an integral part of their new home in California.

Now those items have informed an exhibition centering family migration and the inherited trauma of exile, a timely topic as more than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country in recent weeks since Russia’s invasion. Yurshansky joins a legacy of artists who have probed themes of displacement, trauma and loss entwined with the global refugee crisis, including photographer Tom Kiefer, who saved and photographed migrant and asylum seekers’ belongings discarded when they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, and Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, whose many art and media projects center on the plight of refugees, freedom of expression and life in exile.

Yurshansky’s solo exhibition, “A Legacy of Loss: There Were No Roses There,” on view at American Jewish University through May 12, is composed of five sculptural installations, a multimedia piece and an audio tour. The titular “There Were No Roses There (Diaspora)” — a climbing rose vine made of welded steel that was charred in a kiln and which features glass roses with brass thorns — traces three generations of her family’s migration to either Argentina, Germany, Israel or the U.S. over the last 100 years. It’s also a record of family members killed in World War II.