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A portrait of resilience

Meet 99 year-old Ukrainian-born Toronto painter Maria Styranka. Her recent submission to the AGO is a tribute to the disaster in Chernobyl, which happened 35 years ago this month.

Maria Styranka

Photo by Elena Yeryomenko. Image courtesy of Maria Styranka.

At 99 years old, Maria Styranka’s artistic CV just keeps growing. Born into a creative family in Lypytcya, Ukraine in 1922, her paintings have been exhibited internationally and collected by the National Museum of Art in Kiev. Now a resident of Toronto, she recently submitted a work to the AGO’s ongoing exhibition Portraits of Resilience

To escape Communism at the end of the Second World War , Styranka’s family undertook a perilous journey through North Africa and across Europe, arriving in Toronto in 1954. A student at the Ontario College of Art in the 1950s, she has always been drawn to acrylics and oils, loving the feel of the palette knife and the weight of the brush in her hand. Her first exhibition was at the International Institute of Toronto in 1963. After several years living and exhibiting in Europe, she returned to Toronto in 2015 to be close to her sister, settling at Chartwell Grenadier Retirement Residence in High Park. There, in her apartment, she continues to paint – mostly watercolours and chalk. No stranger to the Gallery, her favourite works in the AGO Collection are those of William Kurelek, another famous Ukrainian-Canadian. 

Styranka, Maria. Chernobyl's Babushka

Styranka, Maria. Chernobyl's Babushka, 1996.

Styranka’s submission to Portraits of Resilience is a painting she created in 1996, entitled Chernobyl's Babushka. When asked why she submitted this one, she explained, “This month marks the 35th anniversary of the disaster in Chernobyl. This painting is my tribute to those women who refused to leave after the disaster. Some still remain.”

Since launching on March 16, more than 1,100 people (ages three to 99) from across the world have submitted artworks to the AGO’s Portraits of Resilience online exhibition. Self-portraits, landscapes, favourite foods, rainbows, quilts and skateboard decks are only a few of the many creative responses.  The exhibition continues to grow, and the deadline for submissions has been extended until June 25, 2021. Visit for more details on how to submit your art and to explore the online exhibition. 

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