Ira Konakova, an artist based in Ukraine has invented and perfected a way to combine art and sustainability in a very unique way. Her carpets, characterized by vibrant colours and abstract designs, are not only magnificent pieces of art and are also made of 100% upcycled cotton. Ira’s carpet-making is a journey of upcycled cotton to crafty carpets and she calls it Levada.
She’s 53 and has been crafty since childhood. “I made my first carpet woven from old clothes to put under my feet by the front door”, she explains. Ira attributes this upcycling to the traditional way of life of the people of the Soviet Union where clothes were not disposable but highly valued. “I get a slight shock every time I go to a used clothes store that sells clothes by weight”, her cultural values have visibly had an impact on her inclination towards sustainability. When asked about how did she get the unconventional idea to use carpets as a medium of art, she replied “How many things are thrown away, I thought about how to use this cheap resource, that’s how the idea arose to weave carpets from T-shirts, using them as paints.”
Upcycling has emerged as an artistic movement which has inspired many environmentally conscious artists around the world. Upcycling is different from conventional recycling as it transforms the waste generated into a valuable object through a creative process. Upcycled art raises the important concern of excessive consumption and environmental degradation and pollution. “More than 15 kilograms of textile waste is currently generated per person every year in Europe, the largest source of which is discarded clothing and home textiles – accounting for around 80 % of total waste.” – Karl-Hendrik Magnus, McKinsey & Company. McKinsey & Company analysis estimates that 70% of textile waste in Europe could be fiber-to-fiber recycled. Upcycled art is essentially giving a second chance to the waste generated to redeem itself by acquiring cultural value through its metamorphosis into a piece of art. When asked about the meaning of Levada, Ira informed us ”This word in the Ukrainian language means a blooming bank of the river, where there are no trees, only grass, where water from the river spills from time to time, and therefore this land is very fertile.”
More than 100 multi-coloured knitted cotton products are upcycled to create one carpet, thus a great amount of discarded clothes are transformed into an object of art! A common symbol which permeates her carpets is a depiction of a singular “eye” with slight variations. In her own words, the eye represents awareness in the face of ignorance. “I want to draw attention to the problem of waste disposal and generally excessive consumption. Open your eyes, look around, and think!”. The eye, thus, is an appeal to critically think about our environmental conservation. She further states, “I also like when it is possible to reflect some thought or event in the carpet. The symbolism of the images is indirect, but I hope to prompt the viewer to think.”
Ukrainians have been suffering from a debilitating war this past year due to the Russian military invasion. Ira finds her art therapeutic in these times of uncertainties and terror. The process and intricacies of weaving help her find some solace in spite of the psychological horror that the war has inflicted. “Weaving is kind of a meditation for me, I listen to music or audiobooks and a coloured ball in my hand turns into a flower or a curl. I work without a sketch, and forms are created spontaneously.” Ira, like many other artists, donates the proceeds from the sale to support the Ukrainian army. Her Carpets contain certain subliminal ideas, events, thoughts and messages which she hopes provoke the viewers to ponder and reflect.