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Road of Hope

‘Rootless’ Ukrainian Artists Create a Shared Garden Exhibition

On May 31, the art project “Splinyi Sad”, meaning “Shared Garden” opened at Treehouse NDSM in Amsterdam-Noord. Visitors enjoyed the multidisciplinary works of six Ukrainian artists in a profound reflection on displacement, togetherness, and resilience. Originating out of the Together project run by the Road of Hope Foundation, the exhibition – which will remain at the Treehouse until June 9 – showcases the creativity and strength of temporarily displaced Ukrainians. 

Graphic designer and contemporary artist Alina Bielun, born and raised in Kyiv, initiated the Rootless initiative to find out what the word meant to fellow displaced Ukrainians in Amsterdam, leading to the exploration of themes of temporality and uncertainty – but also community and bridge-building.

Cultivating Community: The Together Project

Visitors to the Shared Garden exhibition at the Treehouse NDSM listen to project organizer Alina Bielun (middle, right) and Road of Hope Director Patricia Barendregt (middle, left).

The Together project, launched by Road of Hope in May 2022, aims to bridge the gap between Ukrainian refugees and their homeland while fostering connections with their new neighbourhood and host community. Over two years after the invasion of Ukraine, Together has become a vital support system for a growing community in need. Rootless is a natural extension of this initiative, providing a creative outlet for expressing the complex emotions of displacement.

The Seeds of Rootless

Rootless began with an open call by Alina in November 2023, inviting temporarily displaced Ukrainian men and women to join a participatory art project, starting with the question “how would you translate the word ‘rootless’?”.  The invitation resonated with a diverse group of women artists from Ukraine living in Amsterdam, leading to a dedicated group that met over the course of seven months.

Personal Narratives: The Artists’ Works

Alina Bielun pointing to her video installation.

The exhibition presents six distinct narratives and art forms, offering a glimpse into very personal experiences of uprooting, rootlessness, and the process of planting new roots.

Alina Bielun contributed a video installation housed in a container. This looping video depicts the cycle of placing plants in pots, arranging them beautifully, and then removing them. Alina explained, “You put people together, let them tie together. And then when wars stop or when something happens, you need to take them out. They have already grown in this small place and in new ground, but they are not in free ground.”

The program facilitated deep discussions among the participants, helping them come to terms with their displacement. “Some of them started to feel like, ‘I am like this plant. I can be without roots, and it’s all right.’ Some plants can live without roots, in a glass with water, and that’s enough for now. They began to see their situation from a different angle—not as victims, but seeing it as a strength.”

Daria Golovashchenko (right) sharing tea with a visitor.

Daria Golovashchenko, a visual artist from Donetsk, created a series of four paintings using ink made from tea, each representing a different season in Ukraine. 

“I love drinking tea, sharing tea, exploring tea, and making tea ceremonies, so as an artist I wanted to explore if I could also paint with tea.”

Her paintings, made from matcha powder mixed with linen oil, feature bodhisattvas adorned with plants that each have their season to shine in Ukraine: poppies in spring, sunflowers in summer, wheat in autumn, and the evergreen viburnum for winter. The artworks symbolize peace and the cyclical nature of life.

Vira Kuda, a photographer from Kyiv, chose the chestnut tree to represent her journey. She explained:

“In Dutch, it’s called kastanje, and in Ukrainian, it sounds the same, kashtan. In the first year I was in the Netherlands, when spring came, I saw a chestnut tree flowering outside the window here in Amsterdam. For me, it felt like I was a little bit at home that day.”

Vira’s photographic series captures three different species of chestnuts – Asian chestnut, horse chestnut, and edible chestnuts. Reflecting on the similarities and differences of the chestnuts, she notes:

“Each [have their] own characteristics, visually different and from different parts of the world, but here they are in a pile, in one place. And in fact, they are similar, if you just look closely.”

Vira Kuda with her photographic installation.

Sveta Umanets, a floral designer and digital creator from Kyiv, connected with the tulip. She described her installation:

“The migration of plants parallels with the migration of people. We understand that if you want to grow in a new place, you need many skills and a big heart full of love. You need adaptability and flexibility to start growing in new soil.”

Sveta Umanets with her tulip installation.

Sveta’s installation reflects on the journey of tulips from Kazakhstan to the Netherlands, symbolizing her own migration and adaptation. The installation has tulips with specially decorated bulbs. Sveta explains: “The main part in these flowers is a bulb. You don’t have roots. Because every year you can grow new roots. But you need to have a very strong bulb … One part of tulips blossom and grow nice and bright. And one part grows a little bit tired.”

Iryna Glugovska, who works in tourism in Kharkiv, could not attend the exhibition as she was back in Ukraine. Her installation features a television surrounded by houseplants, displaying family photos. She shared the poignant story behind her chosen plant, Benjamin’s Ficus:

“I decided to choose the plant Benjamin’s Ficus. It is connected to my family’s history. For my wedding, a family friend gave us a small ficus tree as a ‘family tree’—a symbol of family. It lived with us until the war began. During this time, we had a son. When the war started, we had to leave Kharkiv on the first day. Unfortunately, the plant dried up, but the family’s story continues. Recently, my son got married, and I gifted the young family the same small tree—Benjamin’s ficus. May life go on and may this brutal war end soon!”.

Iryna Glugovska’s art installation.

Anastasiia Bobkova, a culturologist from Odesa, performed at the opening in a ceremony with sound healing practitioner Olena Hodzinska, also from Odesa. 

Inna Tverdokhlib, an engineer from Kharkiv, invited visitors to sit down and write a letter, leaving the note behind for the artist while taking the artwork with them. 

Photo 1: Anastasiia Bobkova (front) and Olena Hodzinska (back) | Photo 2: Director of Road of Hope Patricia Barendregt (left) and Breath of Hope Project coordinator Adriane Vieira writing letters.

Building Bridges

While rooted in the Ukrainian experience, the themes of Rootless resonate more widely, reflecting the experiences of over 48,500 asylum seekers who entered the Netherlands in 2023 alone. And for Alina, the project is also about creating new connections with those who do not have any personal experience with feeling uprooted:

“When I walked in the Netherlands just in the wild fields, I found a lot of similar plants from those I know from Ukraine. That’s why I hope that a lot of Dutch people will also recognize themselves in these plants. For me, it’s not only about the women inside. Not only about building community. It’s also about building a bridge.”

The exhibition invites visitors to reflect on their own experiences of displacement, be it physical or emotional, and to find common ground in shared stories and symbols.

The installations will remain at NDSM until June 9, and several artists hosted different events between the opening and closing day, including ‘bonds per stitch, a nature-inspired monoprint workshop, a singing bowls performance, and a tea ceremony.

* This article was a volunteer contribution of the journalist Rik Moors for Road of Hope.