Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
My full name is Zabnenkova Olha Yurievna and my Hebrew name is Miriam. I was born on April 23, 1986 into a military family. After finishing highschool (2003), I started by studies at “The Belarusian State Economic University” and attended the Faculty of Accounting and Economics . I have not worked much in my profession, as I realized quickly this is not what I would like to do in my life.
When I was younger, I left Belarus and moved to Sevastopol, Crimea, where my close relatives lived, in order to live and work there. I took up embroidery while I was living there. But since it takes a lot of time, I had to stop. Since then I have returned to Minsk and worked in different fields. I wasn’t able to find a profession I could devote my entire life to.
Life has changed dramatically when I started going to synagogue. And then suddenly all my creative potential was fully revealed. The tremendous support of my friends and the local rabbi from the early stages on helped me a lot, and it is still helping me lot. The first piece I have sown was a cover for the Bimah and Chuppah of our synagogue. I managed to do this and wanted to continue to create without ever stopping. At that moment, the dream arose to embroider a series of paintings on the theme “My Israel”. The first picture was given to the synagogue. And now it’s all in the process. I also had the idea to study Judaica, namely, to sew and embroider some items, which will decorate each Jewish home. I can say that this is only the beginning of my creative path!
What inspired you to become an artist?
I always wanted to create something beautiful. My love for Israel and the Jewish way of life is the inspiration for all my new ideas. I would like every Jewish home to have something Jewish. For example, a beautiful Challah Cover or a Shabbat napkin on the table. I am inspired by the reaction of people who are familiar with my products. Many people love them.
What is your specialty?
According to my education, I am an economist-accountant.
How and where do you work?
I do handicraft activities. I embroider paintings from the “My Israel” collection, as well as Jewish paraphernalia: embroidery of Challah Covers, Covers for Kiddush wine bottles, Afikoman Bags, sets of Hanukkah napkins, Tallit bags, and Belarusian-style Kippot.
What is the most indispensable item in your workshop?
In my workshop there are two indispensable items: my embroidery machine and my hands.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?
My love for Israel inspires me. All my work follow the theme of Jewish Studies. I draw inspiration from the synagogue, during talks with my friends and of course with my family. Family – this is my main inspiration! They support all my ideas. When I come to a creative dead end, my sisters and mother bring me out of it immediately and guide me into the right direction.
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I am manually embroidering pictures from the “My Israel” series. In parallel I create sets for the Shabbat table and various items of Jewish paraphernalia.
What is/are your favourite item/s in your current collection?
I can not definitely say which item from my collection is my favourite. I put a piece of myself into each of my products. A piece of my soul. Therefore, each new work automatically becomes my favourite.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
When I don’t question the product anymore. I am my biggest critic.
Do you do bespoke work?
Yes, I accept custom orders. I have some products in the finished version as well, but I am always open to the customer’s wishes.
What was the first artwork you ever sold?
The first sold work was a napkin for the Shabbat table.
Which project have you worked on the longest so far?
Of course, the creation of the picture takes the longest amount of time. Creating the covers for the Chuppah and the Bimah of our synagogue was a big project I had to finish in a short timeframe. It was important to understand how to do it, how to decorate and how to embody all the ideas on the textile. It was essential to carefully think about how to combine everything, from the color to the decorations. These covers occupy one of the main places in the synagogue and there should not have been a slip here. Perhaps it was the most difficult project I’ve been responsible for.
What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?
I want every Jewish home to be beautiful. That the meeting of the Shabbat Queen is a real holiday. It’s so beautiful when there is a tray with Challah on the table, covered with a beautiful Challah cover, and a bottle of Kiddush wine covered with a beautiful embroidered cover.
I want the Hanukkah table to be decorated with beautiful table linen. It is not only beautiful, but also exciting for children. Choosing what color the jelly doughnut will be on the napkin; children will remember the story of the Hanukkah miracle.
On Pesach, children will look for the Afikoman in a beautiful bag. After all, these little things help to instill a love for beauty into children from a very young age on.With my products, I want people to enjoy themselves and their loved ones with these small but very important things. My wish for the future? That people do not forget that we are the ones who create beauty around us. Remembering how many tragic moments the Jewish people experienced, I want to help somehow, by decorating their lives.
Where can we find your work?