Sunday, May 22, 2022

Weekend Review: Love the Great Ruler


Love, the great ruler / Valentyn Moisenko
Kyiv: Double A Publishing, c2015.
137 p.

This is a little book I found thanks to my library's online collection. It examines and explains the sources and meanings of a handful of the most frequent embroidered symbols used for clothing in Ukraine -- as noted in the subtitle! It does cover just a few, but goes into them in great depth. There is a hint of this history discussed in the intro to The Art of Ukrainian Embroidery as well, mentioning folklore and myth. But this book goes much more into that history.

The book examines four main motifs, what he names as the Cross, Rake, Cossack, and Berehynia-Rozhanytsya (mother). The first three are mainly male, while the Berehynia is obviously the female principle. There is discussion of the roots of these symbols, and the beliefs that gave rise the them. Berehynia has always been one of my favourites and there is a good discussion of the female goddess with arms upraised that is found way back in Trypillian art, and how that image transmogrifies in to a more abstract version of a V with a dot or square above the open end. There are also tons of clear, close-up images of embroidered clothing to illustrate each discussion -- this makes it much easier to clarify what images and symbols he's referring to, and how they show up in modern embroidery. The rake & cossack are images that are much more spiky and linear, and the cross shows up in different ways - a long cross is apparently more masculine, and the solar cross (even arms, in a circle) more feminine. 

This author is a bit mystical for my tastes, being very attached to the male and female principles of symbols and myth. There is a section where he states that the symbol of the cross is used differently in men's and women's clothing, since "the main earthly mission of a woman is to give birth". Well, this might be so in a general mythological perspective but as a comment situated in the modern world, I strongly disagree with it and all that it implies. If you consider these kinds of references as more of a general mystical statement and not rooted in reality today, you can overlook it. It did make me take this book less seriously though. 

Still as an overview of the development of symbolism in Ukrainian embroidery, and the power of these symbols in the tradition of embroidered clothing, this book is really thorough. At least in discussing these four main symbols and their permutations. I enjoyed the focus on embroidered clothing as a strong element of nationhood and belief, and I did learn quite a lot about the different ways that embroidery interprets varied signs for different purposes. There is a lot more to Ukrainian embroidery than just these four symbols - there is really no mention of florals or free-style embroidery, and just a passing reference to the ubiquitous tree of life, for example. But still an interesting read. 

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