Local author and artist, Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon is using her great-grandparent's story of migrating to Canada as inspiration for her latest artistic project.

Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon has her exhibit Ukraine: Close to Home on display at the Mennonite Heritage Centre (MHC) Gallery alongside Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico by the Mennonite Heritage Village and supporters.

Shaw-MacKinnon display includes 12 paintings that are vibrant, beautiful and fall into harmony with one another, however, this is a mask to make the signs of oppression and trauma second to catch the eye.

She uses many Ukrainian symbols and other signs of their cultural heritage to connect the story of her great-grandparents migrating to Canada to the Russo-Ukrainian war happening today.

"The last painting likens that to music that has gone on harmonically with sad lyrics and then there is this deep, dark descent to the music," says Shaw-MacKinnon. "The last painting is called 'Sweetness and Light in Ukraine,' which is the goal for civilization, according to Matthew Arnold and how we seek to strive for that in our civilizations. And that's what we wish to return to Ukraine."

The inspiration for Ukraine: Close to Home comes from Shaw-MacKinnon's great grandparents who immigrated to Canada in the late 1890s. She devoted many hours to researching the migration, the people, and their culture at the time.

The artist also says reading and researching has given her time to unplug, get off her phone dive into what life was like for her ancestors.

Ukraine: Close to Home had its opening showcase on Friday, March 10 at the MHC Gallery and while Shaw-MacKinnon was there, a special someone came up to her.

She was a Ukrainian refugee.

"She said your paintings are of a different Ukraine than what I know and I said yes, I'm very aware of that but my great-grandparents came from a different world than your Ukraine because they basically were living just after serfs had been freed and there was still this hardship in the peasants."

The woman was also excited to see Ukrainian symbolism within the artwork and to find someone who cared to pick up their Ukrainian past and weave it into current events.

The director and curator at MHC Gallery, Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk says that the two exhibits really complement each other.

"They're both asking us to think about what it means to call a place home, and they engage this really dynamic conversation about what home is," says Hodges-Kolisnyk. "They're looking at these different ideas, sometimes competing ideas of things like freedom and citizenship, determination and assimilation, coming, leaving, lost memories, preserved memories; all these different aspects that come together to make a place home."

She is excited for the rest of the 2023 exhibition season with the showcases they have that touch on historical and contemporary issues, ones about gender and creating an atmosphere of celebration for art.

The MHC Gallery also has its applications open for the 2024 season, with the deadline on April 1.