Olena Jennings and Natalie the Ukrainian doll

New York based artist and poet Olena Jennings created an installation of two artworks that are based on a family photograph. These two pieces revolve around one photograph of a little girl, who is Jenning’s mother, on a swing with a doll in the 1950s. The installation includes also connected poems.

Natalie is a character in a long poem by Jennings. She is someone beloved who goes through many transformations. The colorful wall piece of Jennings’ installation (above), includes an excerpt of a poem from the collection The Age of Secrets (Lost Horse Press, 2022) about Natalie and the doll. The poem embroidered onto the artwork’s fabric is published as, When I Moved To the City. (https://www.apofenie.com/poetry/2021/1/22/when-i-moved-to-the-city):

Natalie was the doll.
I worried her eyes would close
and get stuck,
stay that way forever.

-Olena Jennings, 2021 (excerpt, see the whole poem through the link above)

The family photograph is transferred also into the bright orange crepe fabric, which is a new dress made by Jennings. This orange doll’s attire as part of the art installation, is a replica of the one that the doll actually wore in the family photo. Mother of the artist still has the doll in her house.

This orange dress is decorated with Ukrainian-patterned ribbon, reflecting my cultural background. The orange dress is the doll’s. I often work with memory, as depicted here in a moment from the past that is repeated in each piece. -Olena Jennings

Firstindigo&lifestyle: As a Ukrainian descendant, how are you dealing with the war in Ukraine, and thinking of your family and friends? Do you connect your poems and images to the tragedy happening today with the Ukrainian children?

I think every piece of art I create now has to do with the war in Ukraine. It’s impossible to ignore and the sadness is tangible. As part of this project, I am digging into my roots through images that were taken there or shortly after my family’s arrival in the US. I do this to work through my own emotions and to find a point of connection with my friends in Ukraine. -Olena Jennings

Below is the new unpublished poem INTERLOCKED, which Jennings created in conjunction to her art installation.


A body is bare,
ready for the dress
of chiffon.
My body is bare,
in the mirror
where her gaze falls.
The doll’s is made
of plastic, her belly button
Mine is made
of warmth, my lips
wet and petal-like.
I have long conversations
with her, her eyes
stare back.
We talk about the girls
who ignore me
on the swings.
We talk about the way
I can almost reach the sky,
I always want more blue.

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