Artist, feminist, Ukrainian Buddhist. Born Sept. 7, 1953, in Toronto, died April 14, 2012, in Toronto of cancer, aged 58.
A few days before she passed away, Vera dreamed of walking through a sea of blue hydrangeas. She adored those periwinkle beauties, first discovered in Japan and often associated with calm, peace and tranquillity.
Vera was one of three daughters of Petro Jacyk and Yvonne Balysky, “displaced persons” from Ukraine who had settled in Toronto after the Second World War. Vera and Nadia were twins, and Sonia their elder sister.
After growing up in a traditional immigrant family, Vera sought a new identity separate from her ancestral past and her new Anglo-Canadian context.
“My struggle has been to find a meeting place between the past and the present,” she wrote in the catalogue of one of her art shows. “I am a hybrid.”
During a school trip to Asia, Vera’s love for all things Japanese crystallized. That culture’s passion for aesthetic beauty based on minimalism, symbolism and meticulous attention to detail influenced her life and her work.
One day, Vera came home after a class about the Renaissance and announced to her family: “Artists were always supported by the nobility.”
This did not go over well with her father, who had risen from penniless immigrant to successful entrepreneur and a leader of his community. He did not believe one could make a living from art. Vera stood her ground.
She completed her foundation training at the Ontario College of Art and Central Technical School, then earned a master of fine arts from Norwich University’s Vermont College.
Her solo shows Chysto Chysto Chysto and A Wearable Prison were exhibited throughout North America and in Europe.
“Jacyk’s work is an environment of misplaced memory,” wrote Olexander Wlasenko, curator for Chysto Chysto Chysto.
Describing her own artistic purpose in that show, Vera wrote: “I know it lies in the area of trauma, in fragments that float in a sea of silence, in the unnatural quiet of the home I grew up in. My parents’ prewar and wartime experience in Ukraine, being stuck between Stalin and Hitler. Ukrainian soil ravaged by both.”
Her parents’ task, she said, was to survive. “My task is different. What they closed the door on haunts me, hinders me. I track the silence that has been deep and pervasive in my life and collect scattered fragments of a story that were not to be remembered or retold.”
In A Wearable Prison, Vera presented various female forms and body parts twisted out of barbed wire, representing women’s suffering and bondage.
During her last days, Vera showed incredible grace and compassion. Her only remaining wish was that she had more time for her creative work.
Beloved Vera died on Easter Saturday, a time of resurrection, enveloped finally by the love she had so longed for. Days later, hundreds of blue hydrangeas showed up on the doorstep of her home.
Halya Kuchmij is Vera’s friend.