Yamasha: The Triumph of Kustom Kulture Art in War-Torn Ukraine

By Jeff Alexander

Kustom kulture’s reach has no bounds, and its taken different paths with every builder and artist seeking to make their mark. With GNARLY’s sponsorship of the Art on Deck: Flying Piston Benefit charity, we were privy to unique designs from across the globe. Yamasha earned the distinction of winning this year’s skate deck art competition, proving that despite struggling within war-torn Ukraine, an artist’s spirit cannot be silenced.

“It hurts to talk about the war; every day for us can be the last. I never thought that at my age I would be able to say I heard fighters and know how different missiles sound. I don’t want anyone to go through what we are going through for one minute!” shared Yamasha.

Hailing from Ukraine, Yamasha stated that despite kustom kulture not being strong within communities, she was introduced to the subculture by her husband, who taught her to look beyond the machines and see artistic value.

“He taught me to see machines from the other side and this totally changed my life. I tried different fields; advertising design, handcrafted art fair organizer, art studio director, and later on, painted for clients on various subjects like architecture, landscapes, and still-life. I realized this was not my thing,” she stated.

Yamasha looked deeper into kustom kulture, realizing the depth of designs and builds, which enabled her to research and study other artists that devoted their talents to the subculture.

“I initially wanted to be a fashion designer but later on, discovered photorealism, the style I work in. There are many awesome artists that inspire me, like American artist David Uhl, who devoted his work to motorcycles, and his work led to a completely new style in the art world; Harley-Davidson Fine Art. Motorcycles are alive for me, have soul, and wish to be painted,” said Yamasha.

Yamasha shared she was the first Ukranian kustom kulture artist and took a big chance to follow her passion and refine her style. She reflected on her initial challenges and how she worked to transcend them.

“People around me didn’t understand; many said, ‘Why did you draw it?’ and I was often judged and misunderstood. Thanks to my faith in myself and love for what I do, and my husband, I gained the confidence of being on the right track. Day by day, I worked for it. The beginning period seemed to be the lowest of my career. I painted work from my room the first two years, but I wasn’t able to advertise and was just starting to develop as an artist.”

She added, “There was no demand for my paintings at all and that’s why I had to take orders for copies of other paintings. It was a bit embarrassing for me, despite the fact they were better than the original ones.”

Yamasha’s original work evolved and featured nuances reminiscent of kustom builds and she captures moto culture’s spirit so strongly. Despite her home country not really being known as a hotbed for moto culture, she quickly shared Kharkiv features a dedicated community of kustom kulture boosters.

“We have kustom kulture but it’s not so developed because there isn’t as much demand for it as in Europe or U.S., so the market is not as big, but it does exist. Now, of course, it’s hard for everyone, there is a war going on and everyone tries to get used to it and gradually return to work,” said Yamasha.

The ravages of war have further reinforced Yamasha’s appreciation for her growing art career, and how creativity can nurture hope among pain, oppression, and rubble.

“The war has taught me to live here and now and appreciate every moment of my life. Everything changes very quickly and I don’t even know what will happen in an hour. I want to learn how to dream big again, make plans and implement them in my life!”

To ease the pain of the ongoing war, Yamasha has embraced motorcycles even stronger and dedicates any available time to riding and seeking solace within nature.

“There are moments in my life when I need to get away from it all, so I get on my Harley and go to my favorite spots where I gain strength. I also listen to silence, the sound of the wind, see the sunset, and sometimes I meet the dawn, and during a time like that, you understand all problems are small and that you can handle everything and find a way out.”

Yamasha continues growing her name, and earning first place in the Art on Deck: Flying Piston Benefit charity competition reinforces her passion while validating her as an international artist.

Asked what recommendations she has for aspiring artists, Yamasha stressed to not strive just to be a good artist, but be the best you, and just when you think you mastered one skill set, keep focusing.

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