Olga Yukhno immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 during the economic crisis; however, this did not dampen her positive outlook on the opportunities ahead. It may seem cliche, but Olga’s experience demonstrates that America is “the land of opportunity.” Olga says, “one of the reasons I love living in the United States is because I really feel like here, if you are really determined, and you have a passion, and you work for it, you can really follow your dream and you have the freedom to reinvent yourself.” Though Olga admits it has been difficult, she says it would have been “just under impossible” to grow a career unrelated to her degree in Russia. In the U.S., she has found this freedom: the freedom to be an artist.
Tenacity is a striking quality that Olga demonstrates throughout her story. As a child, when met with a school system that would not let her study the “more masculine” arts like woodworking, Olga persevered. Although she was unable to take these classes during the school day, she studied these subjects in an afterschool program. At 12 years old, she chose to “drop out” of art school, where the toxic environment—caused by a teacher who yelled and scolded rather than encouraged and inspired—could have been the end of her dreams. Instead, Olga continued creating with sewing and other artistic activities.There were also obstacles at home. Although her parents contributed to her interests in art throughout her childhood, when it came time for Olga to go to college, majoring in art was met with a hard, “No.” Like a lot of parents, the desire for their child to make a living and have a stable income was far more important than passions and dreams. Olga respected her parents’ guidance and studied linguistics and psychology, but her passion for art persisted.Another quality Olga exhibits repeatedly is the desire to be surrounded by excellence for inspiration. From the tutor who she chose to help her with her English studies while she was at University in Russia, to the mentor that she sought out, Nikolaj Mikhailovich Vdovkin, an acclaimed artist, Olga desires to learn how things should be done at their best. When she was a young adjunct professor, Olga took public transport over an hour away each weekend to work with Vdovkin. He not only allowed Olga to apprentice in his studio but also validated her insatiable desire to create and learn from new disciplines. By saying, “yes,” he set her feet firmly back on the path to her destiny.
When I met Olga, she was working with children, helping them discover and create art. Her enthusiasm for art is infectious. She confessed that she never gets bored. As a born creator, from a young age, Olga would spend hours alone building and creating with the toys and supplies she had. She always sought to learn what she did not know, from knitting and macrame to woodcrafts. “I find something that I am passionate about, and that is all I want”, she said. She works on an idea or concept and may create countless objects until she exhausts the inspiration.Last year, Olga was engrossed with creating art that highlighted the many aspects of the widespread condition of dementia. When a close friend’s family chose to care for their mother through her journey with dementia, Olga observed the dichotomies of the disease and the emotions it evokes. Watching the family demonstrate love, positivity, and “immense kindness” through such a hard experience, was an inspiration for Olga. Olga wants to bear witness to the condition, the culture of isolation, and, through the lens of empathy, showcase the humanity that remains, even in the latter stages of the disease. Olga was accepted into the ArtFields 2021 art competition with an installation that invited visitors to share their experiences with dementia. She received about 400 messages from attendees throughout the nine-day competition. Olga’s initial experience with her friend’s family has grown into a desire to be a voice for so many other individuals and families.
“For me, art-making is, I love it, very challenging (of course) but it is also a privilege; because it has been so hard for me to get the right to do it. I always felt like I had to prove like I can, and I should, and I have the right to.” This is worth noting, considering all that Olga has gone through to be able to create art. It is beautiful that she recounts it all with the joy of someone living their dream.
Olga, even when traveling the world, can be found on social media (@olgayukhnostudio) and at her website.