i am u are  is –  the largest cross-category platform championing the creative Ukrainian minds through a series of showcases hosted across the U.S., founded by Anna Pagava, CEO of GOGŌLA agency, and Kristina Skripka, a hospitality expert from Ukraine. The project is co-organized by PR & communications agency GOGŌLA and fosters an environment to bolster up and coming Ukrainian talent. i am u are supports over 100 Ukrainian creators’ culture, tech, and fashion projects. The platform merchandises one-of-a-kind items and hosts rich event programmes. Their  inaugural event took place in New York in March 2023 and the second chapter of i am u are is set to be held in Los Angeles, November 30 - December 3, 2023.
Behind the project is a larger goal of empowering the Ukrainian creative economy and defeating the stereotypes that exist regarding Ukrainian culture. Today we gain insights from the founders and artists involved in the project including creative director Masha Reva, known for her artistic collaboration with Harry Styles, ethnological curator Nadiia Shapoval, a creative and maker of beautiful objects, and architect Ira Miroshnykova, ahead of their pop-up store being held on September 23 at ICKPA festival. With a team scattered across the globe, their work touches on and is influenced by different cultures and aspects of today’s society. Keep an eye out for their unique advances in the creative world.
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Hello! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Where are you writing us from today? How are you doing?
Anna and Kristina (i am u are co-founders): Thank you for having us. We’re both in Los Angeles — in preparation for the upcoming edition of i am u are.
Masha Reva: Hi! I’m writing from Marseille where I’m participating at 313 Kolektive residency at Cité Radieuse by Le Corbusier which will lead to a solo show in a couple of days during Artorama Art Fair. Afterwards I’m heading to Science Po in Paris to give a talk about creating art and social projects in a war time.
Nadiia Shapoval: Hi! I’m currently  in the West of Ukraine –  the amazing Volyn’ region on an expedition with my friend, photographer Stephan Lisowski. For the last four years we have been creating a book about Ukrainian tender beauty and this is our newest exploration spot. I’m now in the city of Lutsk (which is the capital of the region), enjoying beautiful castles, woods and people of my country, basically discovering Ukraine from within and I’m feeling great about it.
Ira Miroshnykova (FORMA): Hello! We are currently in Kyiv, working on the program for the National Pavilion of Ukraine at the Architecture Biennale. In the upcoming days, the second of the five exhibitions under this program will welcome its first guests in Venice. Architects, researchers, artists, united by the search for a language of collective memory of the Russian-Ukrainian war, will present a joint statement in the Giardini and Arsenal gardens. Ivan Grabko is joining the occasion as a participant as well.
Masha, you’ve had an eventful year! Having been featured in i-D and Vogue this past Spring season as well as coming off your exposure through working on the As It Was music video with Harry Styles last year, the I am u are platform has been gaining more and more traction. How was the work on these projects? And how do you feel these experiences helped to elevate your line?
Masha Reva: The past year and a half has been quite hectic due to the war in Ukraine, however all these projects somehow helped me to carry on through all the obstacles. I’m trying to focus on the process of creation - eventually it always generates energy no matter how complicated sometimes it could be.
The most important point was probably a fundraiser exhibition we did with my partner Ivan Grabko. It was a moment of self-reflection on war that came quite early - we managed to create around 150 artworks during the first two months of the full-scale invasion. We managed to raise around 73.000 EUR and forward a part of proceeds to help a number of volunteer organizations.
Whatever I work on at the moment -  the reality I live in plays a great part in my work process.
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Furthermore, how have you noticed your style evolve through these projects?
Masha Reva: The second big step apart from the exhibition that really influenced my art practice was the opening of my own atelier in the heart of Kyiv last summer. I’ve always dreamed of going to a bigger scale with my artworks which is finally possible with this spacious place. I believe that space really shapes perception and ambitions. I’ve created a large mural artwork in my new studio which is now part of the exhibition Kaleidoscope of (Hi)stories. Ukrainian Art 1912–2023 in Dresden, it’s on till September 10.
And of course being creative director at  i am u are is a new experience for me which involves multitasking on many levels and is quite inspirational in terms of helping Ukrainian creative communities and economy to grow. The first edition in NY was a therapeutic experience - we jumped into production last summer with 0 experience in what it takes to pull together such a massive structure, all we wanted was to react to war with the strength of our ideas. Thanks to all members of our team it grew into a working system.
Now, you guys are based out of Ukraine and bolster a community of support that shines a light on the Ukrainian creative industry. The platform launch took place in New York City. With this more global perspective of the creative realm, how have you noticed international influences on your work?
Masha Reva: I do see that we managed to surprise many with launching i am u are - Ukrainian creatives really have a lot to offer to the global community.  We aim to boost the image of Ukraine internationally with help of creative diplomacy and it's absolutely crucial to do it exactly here and now.
Nadiia Shapoval: I have a big perspective of living abroad (in Europe) and I also try to travel to Japan once every three years as this country influences my creative vision quite a lot. Its respect towards crafts reminds me of Ukraine in a way. So, yeah, my work is influenced by different cultures. However, it’s very important for me to be based in Ukraine to see all processes first hand. Ukraine is a young, yet highly modern country. It’s also very dynamic. Everything can change completely in a span of two months time, especially during the war which is obviously a very hard time for everyone, but also very blooming and rewarding culture-wise. Despite the importance of staying at home, I never forget about the global context. Being in New York feels like being in the very heart of the world and it somehow makes me create more. Thanks to i am u are I relaunched my brand Nadiia and it helped me to believe in myself and the fact that I can create something with my own hands. I can create something interesting for people.
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You have an upcoming pop-up store within ICKPA festival  held at Public Records NYC on September 23. Could you tell us more about this event and what we can look forward to?
Kristina Skripka: At the moment, the i am u are strategy is centered around the idea of conquering and uniting the hearts of various audiences. This collaboration has been in the making since last spring and this whole time Zviad (founder of Bassiani - Georgia's largest techno club, and ICKPA co-founder) and I have been in touch constantly.
Public Records is one of the most inspiring spots in New York for us. Its founders, team, guests - all of them are particularly attentive to the tiniest details. This is the audience we want to communicate to about the young and progressive Ukraine. Where else if not at the festival?
We will have a dedicated i am u are corner at ICKPA with an exclusive selection of items picked specifically for this occasion. Among the brands are: Anton Belinskiy, Paskal, Nadiia, Medovi Svichky and the coolest books on Ukrainian contemporary photography.
Zviad and I met a couple of years ago in Kyiv. Us, Ukrainian girls and them - Georgian guys, speak the same language and feel each other even when these languages are different.
I highly value this partnership and appreciate the fact that we can go hand in hand in the most challenging time for Ukraine and popularize our common vision of culture.
Ira Miroshnykova: We are just in the process of approving the main architectural concept of i am u are showcase in Los Angeles. The ICKRA pop-up (which we are working on as well) will be visually different. However, we want to emphasize the ideological consonance of both projects.
Nadiia Shapoval: I can tell you that even now we do have a flourishing dance culture in Kyiv (which used to be the pre-war capital of rave). This is the way to dance the grief out and handle the whirlwind of all sorts of feelings.
However, just like any other area in Ukraine, rave culture has transformed over the past 1,5 years and adjusted to a new reality. First of all, everything has to take place before the curfew (it starts at 12 AM and obviously people can’t go out and about up until 5 AM). Secondly, everyone is actively involved in crucial social processes. For example, now key rave culture figures are organizing charitable gatherings in order to help rebuild the houses destroyed as a result of shelling. Another vivid case is a series of DJ-sets, proceeds from which are donated to support the Armed Forces or a particular humanitarian need. Basically, every one of them is centered around unity and advancing the victory via all possible tools.
ICKPA is super important for me personally as it’s showing that Ukrainians are having a huge interest and passion towards the dance and music culture even during these times and are sharing their experience with global audiences.
ICKPA, the music festival celebrating Ukrainian talent, shares a parallel mission with i am u are - discovering and uplifting new and established Ukrainian artists. What was this collaboration like? How do you feel being featured as a part of the festival?
Nadiia Shapoval: This is amazing, because every touch point, every news about us both as creatives and people who are making super cool and talented stuff is very important in order to stay connected and united. Together.
Anna Pagava: Initially, with i am u are, my dream was to create a platform (that’s now turning into a whole ecosystem really) which would correspond to the image of modern Ukraine and its outstanding creative industry. Now it’s becoming even bigger thanks to collaborations like this. The power of unity is what makes any idea possible, no matter how big the scale is. The synergy of i am u are and ICKPA is the indication that fellow creatives are not only backing down, but are also multiplying their potential by the desire to spread the word about Ukraine as much as possible, even if it may seem unconventional. It’s true, one wouldn’t probably expect both techno and artistic communities to be diplomatic tools, however they’ve proven to be a win-win combination for this mission.
Ira Miroshnykova: ICKPA is a festival that was born in Kyiv. We met several years ago when ФОРМА undertook the development of the event’s stage design. I remember how Zviad and Guri came to our office to get to know each other, and it almost immediately became clear that we should do something together. Ambitious, daring idea, lack of time - those were ideal conditions for starting a new project.
Every day we went to Khvylia (xвиля, Ukrainian for ‘wave’), that was the name of the sanatorium which became the venue of the festival. I just got behind the wheel then and every trip was a nerve-wracking experience for me. But all the efforts were worth it, the first ICKPA was truly unforgettable.
The five of you - Nadiia, Masha, Ivan, Iryna and Oleksii - are equal curators behind i am u are. With many projects, you see one main designer or curator leading a team with their specific vision. I understand you have separate tasks: Nadiia - ethnological curation; Masha - visual creative direction , Ivan - visual language and concept, FORMA - architectural concept. How do these areas intersect? What is your creative process between all of you? How do you discover and select designers or participants?
Nadiia Shapoval: On one hand, having such a blooming group of creators is a blessing as we get to interact and exchange ideas. On the other hand, we surely do have separate views which sometimes get in the way of our workflow and make it slower than it could be. However, the first chapter was a success because of our joint effort. It took us 9 months to come up with everything the public eventually saw and experienced. I had complete freedom and trust in my ethnological section and had help from both Iryna, our chief architect and Masha regarding the ideas on how to present this sector in the best way possible. We were pretty free, however we kept our respect towards one another.
Masha Reva: From my point of view we have a strong concept around which we have built this project, thus creating a core for everything else and acting as a dominant [theme]. For me and Ivan the work on this project had started last summer when we were asked to create a creative vision of this project which still didn’t even have a name. I’m grateful to our team that a number of brave decisions brought us to shaping a strong vision of modern Ukraine.
In order to create something new one has to take risks and criticism, it's an inevitable part of growth. I'm glad that we managed to grow and to learn from one another. Also, during the first edition I took a role of executive creative director which was honestly exciting but eventually brought me to burnout. Working from Ukraine has its specifics that adjust the process sometimes in an unpredictable way so our team always has to adapt. During this edition we decided to divide the responsibilities also because the team is growing.
The selection of the participants is arranged around the experience of each member of the creative team. We trust the expertise each of us have and follow our concept which is all about a strong image of our country that is shown through innovations as well as our roots and heritage.
Ira Miroshnykova: A major part of architectural practice is built on interaction with contractors, customers, invited specialists, etc. FORMA works at the intersection of disciplines, in constant dialogue with specialists from completely different fields.
Therefore, the process of creation of both the first exhibition in New York, and L.A. edition of i am u are is quite clear and comfortable for us. The main area of responsibility for us is development of the volume-spatial planning solution for the event, as well as stands design. Moreover, together with the curators, we are working on the art section of the showcase. With Nadiia we are embodying the spiritual element of the concept and basically giving it volume. The team is in constant dialogue on all artistic matters with Ivan and Masha too.
Are there any creative differences working as a curation team? How do you go about settling them?
Nadiia Shapoval: Well, of course there were differences. However, we divided the zones of our responsibility and parts of work respectively. To keep things going productively, we have regular team sessions where we can discuss and develop our ideas.
Masha Reva: Often our group calls have been like a survival kit during first year of the full scale invasion, it was almost like a group therapy; we gathered around a common goal and worked hard to make it happen. This is something unique about this ambitious project - it aims to provide support to the creative economy of Ukraine but also at the same time helps all of us to focus on real action and deeply understand that cultural diplomacy is an inalienable weapon during the war time.
Ira Miroshnykova: Creative disagreements are an integral part of the process. But if the team nurtures respect and willingness to listen to each other, any issues can be solved and a common solution can be reached. We've done well so far, and the first event is a great example of this effort.
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Speaking of creative process, how has the political situation and the greater Russia-Ukraine conflict impacted your work?
Anna Pagava: I feel like it has made us even more determined and unstoppable. From the very beginning of the invasion I’ve made my best to make sure that my GOGŌLA team is safe, and we kept on working to make sure we do everything possible to support our country with what we can do best — communication. I’ve been in Los Angeles, but my heart was with the team and family who stayed under the attack — and didn’t stop working for a day. I couldn’t help myself and also went to visit them in autumn 2022 — and the spirit that everybody at home shared was — and is — unbreakable.
Kristina Skripka: First and foremost, it led to forced immigration, which is a painful and unexpected experience on so many levels. This is something you just can’t get prepared for – your whole life takes a 180 turn and you can’t help but rediscover yourself and extend the limits of what you’re capable of. Now that we’ve come a long way of acceptance and adaptation, we have a clear understanding of what to do, where we are headed, and this clarity fuels us to go even bigger!
Nadiia Shapoval: It took a toll on mental health, as well as living in general. This winter was particularly hard for every Ukrainian because we had power outages, constant blackouts, no connection etc. But we did it! This is a part of resistance - to keep your work, never give up under any circumstances and conditions. And I’m very proud that we succeeded and we’re going to make it for a second time, a third time and it doesn’t matter how long the war will last.
Masha Reva: For those who lived through all the obstacles in Ukraine it has a very strong impact for sure as well as for everyone else who was forced to leave the country, displacement brought a different kind of trauma. On one hand this is something that definitely made us stronger, however [on the other hand] war brings a very clear vision of what is important and what’s not really . I think this clearness is precious, sometimes it goes hand in hand with the courage which is necessary to have in order to survive and at the same time still celebrate life.
Ira Miroshnykova: This is not a conflict. This is a full-scale war that Russia started against Ukraine. Life in wartime makes its adjustments in all processes, not only creative ones. We adapt to them, continue to move forward, work, and thereby accumulate a certain type of resistance.
What is the message you would like to impart on your viewers?
Nadiia Shapoval: My message is that Ukraine is a  captivating, undiscovered, fragile place, full of creative people with a special vision of beauty. Us, Ukrainians, can be a part of the global community. We can improve, adapt and learn from it and we can have our own cultural space within. Ukrainians showed the whole world that we are strong. And I want to show that we are capable of showing the true talent and beauty of our country.
Masha Reva: I aim to get our visitors inspired and amazed how deep and mysterious Ukrainian nature is. The soil that raised us is rich for talent and innovation as well as sensibility, courage and kindness. All these different facets of Ukraine as we know it is definitely something we want to share with our audience.
Ira Miroshnykova: There is always a story of real people behind every thing, every work. Those who have been living in conditions of full-scale war for a year and a half, and despite this continue to create. So everything you will see and hear at the showcase is unique, and is definitely worth knowing about.
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