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Visual and literary art piece pays homage to family at Cortez Cultural Center

Sonja Horoshko working in studio on the preliminary stage of her Satchel project in Cortez on March 12. (Johnny Walker/Courtesy photo)
‘Satchel’ speaks to ‘universality of displacement’

The Cortez Cultural Center is showcasing a visual and literary art piece called “Satchel” that pays homage to family ties and many of our ancestors’ journeys to the United States.

The exhibit is open to the public from through Sept. 30 during normal business hours at 25 N. Market St. The opening reception celebrating the artwork is Thursday, Sept. 1 from 6-8 p.m.

“This groundbreaking collaborative exhibition poignantly speaks to the universality of displacement and movement throughout human history,” said Rebecca Levy, executive director of the center. “We are pleased to present it to the public.”

The artist behind “Satchel” is Sonja Horoshko, and she created this piece as a tribute to her grandparents’ journey from Ukraine to the United States in the 1930s. They immigrated to the U.S. during Stalin’s Reign of Terror, also known a the Great Purge.

According to the news release from the cultural center, “Satchel” “spotlights family migration/relocation by interpreting cherished items and the stories they hold of family journeys when they immigrated to the U.S.”

When Horoshko first moved to Cortez, she served as an artist-in-residence for a year at Hovenweep National Monument. She said she was asked “Where are your people, Auntie?” by many of the Navajo families that she encountered there.

She was unsettled by the fact that she would only answer that they lived outside Denver without acknowledging her family’s ties to their home country of Ukraine. Soon, her art began more and more to point toward her cultural identity and her family’s origins.

Ukrainian Orthodox Book of Prayers. Horoshko’s grandfather carried the small book, printed in the Ukrainain language, in his pocket. The engraved illustrations in it inform Horoshko’s visual art on exhibit in "Satchel," at the Cortez Cultural Center through Sept. 30. (Courtesy photo)

Four items featured in “Satchel” are based on deeply sentimental items she brought with her when she moved to Cortez. These items were brought by her family when they emigrated from Ukraine. The items include a 1907 hemp passport holder from Bremen Shipways, a pocket-size Ukrainian Orthodox Book of Prayers from her paternal grandfather, a tobacco pouch and a Sami doll from her maternal grandparents.

As people grow conscious of how each of us has moved on the planet at some time in our family history, we define common ground,” Horoshko said. “We move, migrate and relocate for many reasons – a better job, education, love, seasonal agricultural and livestock needs, or to escape natural and economic disasters, war, plagues, discrimination, persecution and famine. I am hoping that those who participate in recalling stories from cherished family objects will realize in the end they are the satchel that carries their family story.”

The project was made possible by an art grant awarded to visual and literary artists and was funded by the National Endowment of the Arts through Colorado Creative Industries. "Satchel“ also includes work from 12 other literary and visual artists who created pieces to add that represent their own family histories.

“Each of our families move or change locations to enhance and create security, happiness and survival. Humans are not static,” Horoshko said.

Hart Family Fetish Figure, 2022, graphite, paint, paper and board. The artist, Mondo Jud Hart, describes the figure as “(allegedly) passed down on his father’s side of the family from early 19th century West Africa.” (Courtesy photo)

These collaborating artists are: Mondo Jud Hart, Renee Podunovich, Eirene Hamilton, Sam Lyons, Michael Murphy, Cindy Yurth, Michael Thompson, Eudora Claw, Teena Deschenie, Maurus Chino, Silvia Pina, Joan Roberts Garcia, Jenny Treanor, Dante Downey and Ed Singer.

Horoshko began creating the satchel before the war in Ukraine began, but after seeing the terror inflicted upon her family’s home country, the art project soon had a whole new meaning.

“I witnessed real people in the news. They were fleeing, pulling suitcases, wearing backpacks, pushing strollers, packing what was essential to them. … I could not foresee such horror,” she said.

After seeing the heartache in Ukraine, Horoshko found solace in her grandfather’s Ukrainian Book of Prayers even if she couldn’t read the writing. To her, the designs on the satchel “represent grief and sorrow of Putin’s war,” along with being a tribute to her lineage.

“We are grateful to present this timely project to the public,” Levy said. “Ancient migration stories are deeply embedded in the Southwest landscape, and resonate now more than ever.”