SASKATOON – It’s an exhibit that’s been eight years in the making and on Sunday the Diefenbaker Canada Centre officially opened the travelling exhibit, Along the Road to Freedom: Mennonite Women of Courage and Faith.
Artist Ray Dirks painted 25 works depicting the journeys of Mennonite women and their families fleeing from the Soviet Union and Germany during the revolution and WWII.
“Just through the relating of the stories and getting to know them and then starting to bring those stories and images of the woman onto the paper, I can’t help but be powerfully moved. These stories are now seeming like they’re a part of my life,” says Dirks.
Dirks’ own great aunt Katrina Peters fled Russia and lost five children and her husband. Dirks says it’s important to know the struggles and sacrifices our ancestors made along their journey.
“I think many of us who are here by the second generation we don’t care about that journey anymore. We just take for granted the goodness that we’ve got here and I think that’s a shame. We should honor those who are responsible for us coming here,” says Dirks.
Wanda Andres’ family immigrated to Canada in 1948. Her Oma fled Ukraine after her husband and two oldest children were shot in Siberia. Her family’s painting depicts a crucial survival moment when her Oma was forced to sell her wedding ring for food.
“Her sacrifice for her children and her ability to keep the family together, which is really important and we were able to flee as a family and eventually come to Canada,” says Andres, exhibit committee member.
For both Andres and Dirks the exhibit and those depicted in it unify us all.
“I like the fact that yes, these are stories that focus on these women from one particular culture and faith background from a specific place in the world, but they’re universal stories,” says Dirks.
The exhibit runs until June 19.