What do bright red winter berries have to do with falling in love?

Elena, her husband Jack, and I are creating a series of artworks telling the story of Hürrem Sultan.

We start Hürrem’s story in Ruthenia (where is now Western Ukraine) where she was born as Aleksandra. But we can’t spend any time with her in Ruthenia, because Crimean Tatars raided her village and took her as a slave. She was sent to the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, to the harem of Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire.

But don’t worry, we’re not going to go all gritty Game of Thrones. Elena and Jack are from Ukraine, just like Aleksandra, and we found a way to weave their heritage into this part of our story.

In Ukraine, the kalyna bush, with its bright red berries, is a national symbol that’s intertwined in legend and folklore. You often find references to kalyna in traditional songs and embroidery. A beautiful young girl could be said to be “blossoming like kalyna” or “as beautiful as kalyna in blossom.” For our story, we could say that Aleksandra is crossing the “kalyna bridge”, symbolising the ending of her time of youth, and leaving the past behind. Because this is a love story, we can also say that Aleksandra is “walking down the kalyna bridge”, which means she will fall in love.

Behind the scenes

One of the beautiful photos we captured with Elena in her red dress on the bridge.
One of the beautiful photos we captured with Elena in her red dress on the bridge.

It took me a while to find the colour palette for this piece…

In progress: an attempt at finding the composition and colour palette for this piece.
In progress: an attempt at finding the composition and colour palette for this piece.
In progress: another attempt at finding the composition and colour palette for this piece.
In progress: another attempt at finding the composition and colour palette for this piece.

Then I stumbled across the fact that the kalyna’s berries appear in winter; bright red against the white snow. And I think winter is a perfect backdrop for this part of Hürrem’s story. Elena says it beautifully:

It seems like the snowy winter expresses the loneliness Hürrem could have been feeling when she was just brought to Ottoman Empire as a slave and, at the same time, she didn’t give up and was hoping to experience true love, happiness, and freedom.

Elena

Here’s Aleksandra, about to start one of the greatest romances in history, walking down the kaylna bridge:

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, "My one and only love". Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm

Next time

In the next part of this series, Aleksandra meets Suleiman, she gets the name Hürrem, and the romance begins. We meet Jack for the first time. And there’s a gorgeous bright red swirly dress. And roses. Can’t wait!

Of course, if you don’t want to wait until my next blog post, you can come and see the entire series and the full story at my solo exhibition! There’s less than a week to go! I’m one of 3 exhibitions coming soon at ArtsPost, 120 Victoria Street, Hamilton. We have a preview opening the 25th of May at 5.30pm where there’s drinks and nibbles and you’ll have a chance to meet all the artists. The exhibition runs from the 26 of May till the 26 of June. I’d love if you could come!

2 thoughts on “What do bright red winter berries have to do with falling in love?

  1. loving how your art-journey is now continually unfolding and noted that TLC sent out a promo on your exhibit coming up real soon…

(If you'd like to leave me a message too, I'd love to hear from you! I've turned off comments on this post because it's older than a couple of weeks, but you can email me at ailene@oldmountainart.com)