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Yona means „Dove“ in Hebrew /„יוֹנָה“/. This was also the nickname given to the painter’s family on her mother’s side. We are all familiar with the dove’s universal symbolism of Peace.

  • Yona Tukuser was born in 1986 to a Bulgarian family in the village of Glavan, which is 70 km away from the Danube Delta in Ukraine. She’s a descendant of immigrants (1832) from Glavan village, part of the Galabovo municipality in the Stara Zagora district of Bulgaria.

Photo of Yona in 1986

There are pen scribbles over her face in the picture – this is Yona’s first drawing

Photo from 1987 of Yona's parents,

Dimitar and Valentina with her older brother - Igor

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, her mother, Valentina, was a nurse and her father - a monumental mason. Her earliest childhood memories are related to her father's work. „I remember there were many headstone photos of people in our yard, which would get embedded in the marble slabs. I loved looking at them and talking to them. I remember especially vividly the picture of a small child, which intuitively filled me with fear, without me fully realizing that it had died. This was probably my first encounter with the afterlife.“

Images 1,2 and 3 are the headstone photos of Yona’s great-grandmothers: Stepanida Grezha, Stepanida Cholak, Stepanida Tukuser

  • Yona often lived with her grandparents, who were deeply religious. Her grandmother sang in the church choir and Yona often accompanied her to church ever since she was little. While reading the Bible, Yona became fond of it from childhood and would keep all Christian traditions. It was precisely in the home of her grandparents where the thrill for the art of painting first dawned on her.

„There was a hidden book in their home which was off-limits to me. It was a catalog with hard, canvas, green covers. Inside were large color reproductions of the works of Western artists that also revealed human nudity. There were many paintings by Rubens, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pieter Bruegel, Titian, Giorgione and many more world-renowned masters of art. I unfurled it in secret and contemplated it for a long time. This book - like the forbidden fruit - piqued my excitement and admiration, as if towards something sacred“.

 

Yona remembers being inspired by films about painters as a child. After watching a film and being captivated by what she saw, she would draw late into the night an often repetitive plot: with black ink, she would expressively compose a cemetery consisting of many mounds and crosses, over which an eerie flock of ravens would fly, as a little girl cried over her mother's grave.

In this snippet of an old video cassette recording Yona can be seen drawing at her grandmother’s house

  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yona's parents farmed and raised livestock, and as a teenager, she often helped them in the orchard, in the fields, and in the slaughterhouse - with the processing of the meat which they delivered to Odessa.

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Slaughtering a pig in Yona's farmyard

EDUCATION

2003–2010

  • In the period 2003–2007, she studied at the Izmail Humanitarian State University in Ukraine, graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, in the class of Ivan Shishman.

Yona's first oil painting, 2003

  • In 2005 she participated in an exhibition of Bulgarian artists in the Kiev-Pechora Lavra, Ukraine.

  • From 2005-2008 she worked as an assistant for the restoration of murals in various churches and temples in Ukraine and Bulgaria.

  • In 2007 she held her first solo exhibition at the Bulgarian Cultural Center in the city of Odessa, Ukraine.

  • In 2007 she moved to Bulgaria.

  • In the period 2007-2010 she studied at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia, in her first year she studied painting in the class of Andrei Daniel. After a conflict with her teacher, she moved to Teofan Sokerov's class and received a master's degree in painting.

1.- First year of study at the National Academy of Arts - „Portrait of a model“, charcoal, paper, 2007

2. - Second year of studies at the National Academy of Arts - „Nude body“, oil on canvas 2009

  • In 2008 she won first prize for pictorial sketch - portrait in the competition of the National Academy of Arts held in memory of Marin Georgiev Ustagenov. Then again in 2009 she won first place in the same competition for landscape.

  • In 2008, she showcased her first solo exhibition in Bulgaria, in the „Agora“ gallery, Sofia.

WORK

  • 2010-2022

  • In 2010, Yona began creating her project „Hunger“, the idea for the topic arose while she was a student at the National Academy of Arts.

  • „The imagery in the paintings from the „Hunger“ project date back to my school years. When I was in fifth grade, the history teacher told us about the mass famine in the Soviet Union and Ukraine and showed us a picture of cannibals, which shocked me. For homework, the teacher encouraged us to ask our grandparents how they survived the famine. The recounted memories of the terrible famine in Bessarabia after the Second World War remain forever in my memory as constant companions that never cease to excite me. While studying at the Academy in Sofia, I decided to recreate them with the means of painting.“

Photo of cannibals during the famine in Povolozhie in 1921 (shown by the teacher in history class)

Since 2009, Yona has been researching historical materials on the famine in Ukraine and the Soviet Union from the period 1921-1923, 1932-1933, 1946-1947, using an academic approach in selecting sources of information from archives and personal interviews with living witnesses who survived the famine. The results of the research on the subject serve to recreate the Soviet famine in Ukraine through the means of painting.

The photo shows the first sketch for the painting from the „Hunger“ project.

Sangina, oil on cardboard, 2010

  • In December 2010, Yona's father passed away, two weeks before the opening of the „Hunger“ exhibition in Sofia. The exhibition was canceled and moved to March 2011.

The Lament of the Father“, oil on canvas, 2016

The opening of the „Hunger“ exhibition in the Center for Culture and Debate „Red House“, Sofia, 2011

Exhibition «Anthropophage» in «The Red House Centre for Culture and Debate» 2011. Sofia, Bulgaria

  • In 2010-2011, she created a series of paintings - „Chernobyl“.

  • Photos 1. 2. 3. are sketches for paintings from the „Chernobyl“ series - oil paints, cardboard, 2010

In the series of paintings titled „Chernobyl“ Yona presents the explosion of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. The town is ghostly, inhabited by humans-turned-mutants, born after the accident.

  • In 2011 Yona initiated her project „Root“.

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1 - Decapitation of ducks with an ax

2 - Still life with vegetables

3 – Still life with vegetables and a collage made of female lingerie, oil on canvas. Project „Root“, 2011

„The „Root“ project began as a sort of psychotherapy. If a psychologist asks his patients to describe their suffering and materialize their grief on a sheet of paper, then as an artist I used the same method, but instead of writing - I expressed the outlived memory with a brush on the canvas. This is the confession of the sorrow from my childhood in the village. This is what excites me even today, having come to the big city as an immigrant in a foreign country and having been faced with the rhythm of modern society.

 

The expression in my paintings, having gone through all stages, evolved from personal experience to my social commitment - criticism of modernity. A call to construct a new worldview. Modern avant-garde culture combined with the earthly/grounded/natural which I had left behind. „Root“ a cry for social awakening.“

  • In 2012 Yona moved to Paris and held an exhibition at „In My Room“ gallery.

  • In August 2012 she began living in New York.

  • In January 2013 she held an exhibition at the „Able Fine Art Gallery“ in Chelsea, New York.

  • In February 2013 she began collaborating with the American artist of Bulgarian descent Ionko Ivan in his multidisciplinary project „Geologic Pulse“.

  • In May 2013 Yona and Ionko Ivan held a joint exhibition - a presentation of the „Geologic Pulse“ project, in which Yona included 8 paintings from the „Root“ project at the Tesla Motors showroom in Chelsea, New York.

Paining from the „Root“ project presented in the Tesla Motors showroom next to a Tesla Roadster car, New York, 2013

  • In 2013 she returned to Bulgaria and created a new series of paintings for the „Hunger“ project.

  • In 2013 Yona started the experimental program „Nuclear Seed“, within the scientific - artistic project „Geologic pulse“ of Ionko Ivan, which proved the influence of the geological environment on painting.

  • In 2014 she presented a series of paintings created in different countries, within the framework of the „Nuclear Seed“ program in the „Geologic Pulse“ exhibition at the Regional History Museum - Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

  • In 2015 Yona relocated to Rome.

  • In 2015 in Rome Yona created a series of paintings on the theme of „Repair of DNA“ - a pictorial „illustration“ of a mechanism for restoring the structure of damaged DNA and the epigenetic processes of extragenomic inheritance of information.

  • In 2015 she published a scientific article „An artistic view of the Famine in Bessarabia“. SCIENTIFIC READINGS: The European space in a regional context. Izmail Humanitarian State University, 2015, Izmail, Ukraine.

  • In 2016 in Rome she began experimenting with „sound painting“ as part of the „Anthropophage“ project.

The cover of the music album „Anthropophage“

  • On May 7, 2021, Yona released the conceptual music album „Anthropophage“, which includes 21 electronic sound improvisations created in Rome from 2016 to 2021. The sound compositions in the „Anthropophage“ album are inspired by real stories collected by Yona about famine and cannibalism in Ukraine in the 20th century. „In the album „Anthropophage“ I tell the story of a boy who, after seeing his mother eating the body of his brother, runs out into the road to scream the horror of what he saw. Instead of words, however, it is able to produce only scraping sounds. The boy became mute as a result of the experience.“ Each composition in „Anthropophage“ tells a true story.

  • In 2016 she began developing the „Time“ project in Rome.

1.- Documentary video footage from Yona's family archive

2.- Charcoal sketch on paper. „Time“ project

3.- A painting in its beginning stage. Oil on canvas. „Time“ project

In the „Time“ project, each painting corresponds to one second, a stop-frame shot from video footage in the period from 1994 to 2012 in Yona's family home.

„Time as an active creative agent in the universe is the most important and most mysterious characteristic of nature. The study of time allows us to penetrate the depths of nature and discover the inner connection of the universe, which I, as an artist, „register“ with the help of colors.“

  • In 2017 she participated in a video conference at the International Scientific Conference „The Famine of 1946-1947: historical, Philosophical, psychological and pedagogical aspects“, dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the tragic events. Izmail State Humanitarian University, May 18, Ukraine 2017.

Participation of Yona Tukuser in a video-bridge at an international scientific conference «Famine 1946-1947: historical, philosophical, psychological and pedagogical aspects» dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the tragic events. Izmail State University of Humanities, May 18, Ukraine 2017

 

  • In May 2018 Yona began filming a documentary named "Anthropophage" in the Bulgarian villages of Ukraine, which presents personal stories of survival from famine and cannibalism in Bessarabia (Ukraine) in 1946-1947. 

Still from the documentary "Anthropophage", 2018

  • In 2020 - the Institute for Historical Research - Bulgarian Academy of Sciences published Yona's scientific article „Projection of a metamodern method for researching the famine in Bessarabia in 1946-1947, reflected in historical painting“ in the magazine „Historical Review“. LINK

  • In 2020 she began living in London.

  • In 2021 she returned to Sofia and created the NFT project „COOKSHOE“.

  • In 2021 Yona returned to Ukraine to continue working on the „Hunger“ project.

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Yona on her way to Ukraine, 2021

  • After the start of the war in Ukraine, Yona returned to Bulgaria and continued to work on the „Hunger“ project in the studio of the „Nu Boyana“ Film Studios, Sofia.

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Yona working on the painting „I was so hungry that I ate my friend's toy“, in the studio of the Nu Boyana“ Film Studios. Sofia, September, 2022

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  • In November 2022, the Sofia City Art Gallery, one of the most prestigious state galleries in Bulgaria, buys the painting “RODINA, 10-1990, ISSN 0235 – 7089, p. 58 / P-702, op. 1, file 102 a, 13. The Volga Famine - 1921” (it includes the photography of an episode of Russian cannibalism that inspired Yona’s project “Hunger”). 

  • On January 27, 2023, the documentary "Anthropophage" premiered on the channel of the short film streaming platform NoBlink. ​The film features interviews with ethnic Bulgarian witnesses from Ukraine who tell stories about cases of cannibalism during the great famine in Ukraine in 1946-1947. 

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  • Screenings of the film "Anthropophage":

  • "Festival del Cinema di Cefalù", Cefalù, Italy; September 1, 2023; Official Selection.

  • "Student World Impact Film Festival", New York, United States; June 19, 2023; Official Selection, Honorable Mention.

  • "Golden FEMI Film Festival", Sofia, Bulgaria; June 10, 2023; Official Selection.

  • "Lift-Off First-Time Filmmaker Sessions", Iver, United Kingdom; August 7, 2023; Official Selection.

  • "Anti-War International Independent Film Festival", Jõhvi, Estonia; August 23, 2023; Official Selection.

  • "Serbest International Film Festival", Chisinau, Moldova;
    September 5, 2023; Official Selection, Semi-Finalist.

  • 23-25 January 2024 the film "Anthropophage" was screened during the exhibition "HUNGER" in the European Parliament, Brussels.

  • 23-25 January 2024, the solo exhibition "HUNGER" in the European Parliament, Brussels.

  • On February 22, 2024, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Yona is a speaker at the conference "Culture vs. War".

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