________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 16 . . . . April 13, 2001

cover Wanda Koop: In Her Eyes.

Gordon McLennan (Director). Phyllis Laing (Producer, Buffalo Gal Pictures), Joe MacDonald (Producer, NFB).
Montreal, PQ: Buffalo Gal Pictures, Inc. in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada, 2000.
45 min., 54 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9100 012.

Subject Headings:
Political refugees-Ukraine.
Women artists-Canada-Journeys.
Ukraine-History-Revolution, 1917-1921-Personal narratives.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Val Nielsen.

**** /4

In 1997, Wanda Koop, internationally acclaimed painter and video artist, undertook a deeply personal journey to create her most important body of work. The artist traveled to the Southern Ukraine with her mother, 77-year-old Erika Koop, who was born on a wealthy estate there in 1919. In the name of the Russian Revolution, bandits raided the estate and killed Erika's mother. Shortly after, the family members fled to Canada where they were forced to start their lives over as poor immigrants in a strange land. Koop maintains that creating this body of work has been the biggest challenge of her career. She says she has attempted to deal with a universal theme: to show that her family's experience is not unique but happens over and over. She compares the immigrant experience to artistic creation: both processes force people to start over from nothing, to go to a foreign place and to learn a whole new language.

      Koop used the video camera extensively on her visit to the Ukraine. Among the many images she has captured are the brilliant sun-dominated landscape, the tree-lined walkway of an abandoned estate, lilacs blooming in a forgotten graveyard and, above all, the central figure of her mother as she walks among the ruins of her past. Throughout the video, the viewer sees the image of a strong and beautiful young woman rowing a boat covered with rose petals. Later, viewers learn that the woman represents Erika's mother moving through difficult waters with grace and serenity; the rose petals symbolizing the beauty and scent of loved ones who will always be with us.

      Two years after the journey, the artist had her paintings installed in the 19th century Canadian Bank of Commerce building on Main Street in the artist's home town of Winnipeg. Several shots of Koop watching as the huge paintings are framed and hung in the cavernous marbled interior of the long unused bank show a nervous and excited artist who insists that "The first time I really see a painting is when I install it." Perhaps the most touching moment of the film is when Wanda takes her mother through the exhibit. As they gaze upward at the paintings, they discuss the meaning of the oft-repeated circular images on the canvases. "Life moves on, but it always repeats itself. Yes, that's beautiful," says Erika.

      Greg Lowe's haunting musical theme played on the piano and cello sets a mood of bittersweet nostalgia as it is heard throughout the video. Wanda Koop: In Her Eyes is a film of process as much as product and, as such, will be of interest to art teachers and students everywhere. This moving and gently-paced documentary is an excellent introduction to the striking and evocative work of this gifted artist, particularly at the senior high school level.

Highly Recommended.

Valerie Nielsen is a retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364