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Fragile Fears exhibition: Merging Ukrainian and Norse mythology

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Ukrainians in Trøndelag have come together through Den Ukrainske Forening to create a unique photography exhibition that melds mythologies and builds bridges between Norway and Ukraine.

Fragile Fears — Photo by Olena Ivashkina

“The Ukrainian people who fled here brought with them the very fragile and newborn Ukrainian culture that was just starting to bloom,” says Olena Ivashkina, a Ukrainian photographer who came to Trondheim in April after surviving intense bombardment. “They’re in a new country, where they’re afraid to be different but still trying to remain authentic. And that’s what this project is about; overcoming our fear.”

The project is called Fragile Fears and is a photography series of nine beings that depict a unique blend of Ukrainian and Norwegian culture. The series sprang from the need to fight back, to keep Ukrainian culture alive, but also to build bridges.

“Norway is somehow more similar to Ukraine in regards to the mentality, nature, and people than any other country I have been to,” says Olena. Along with other refugees and Ukrainians who had lived in Trøndelag since before Russia’s full-scale invasion, they discovered even more similarities — especially in mythology.

The Vovkulaka-Fenrir reimagining is one of the nine beings that depict a unique blend of Ukrainian and Norwegian culture in the photography series 'Fragile Fears'. — Photo by Olena Ivashkina

“Through research and discussions with local people, we discovered that many things we have in Ukrainian mythology have their parallels in Norwegian culture.” One of the beings in the series is a mix of Fenrir and Ukrainian folk tales of vovkulaka, werewolves.

While Fenrir, the giant wolf of Norse mythology, has been interpreted as a representation of the fear of the unknown, the wolves in Ukrainian folklore are quite different. There are many stories of people shifting from human to wolf form, but these creatures were revered, not feared, as wolves represent ancestors and deep connections.

More than 20 Ukrainians helped make Fragile Fears, from award-winning costume designers and makeup artists to people participating in an art project for the first time. The photos were all shot around Trondheim.

“People will experience each creature differently,” says Olena. “One might appear as Odin to a Norwegian person, but a completely different being for Ukrainian people. Despite using Ukrainian symbology and craft, anybody from Scandinavia or Ukraine should see something familiar.”

You can enjoy all nine creatures for free when the exhibition opens in Olavshallen’s bomb shelter on January 13th. The date is apt as it’s Friday the 13th and the Ukrainian Malanka celebration, which is rich in ancient rituals, folklore, and magic.


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