DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Faculty art keeps Ukrainians top of mind as war enters second year
By Russell Dorn /
February 24, 2023 /
Posted in: CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY /
Cathy Ann Elias, a professor in the School of Music, stands beside four paintings from her collection titled "Ukraine, When God Is Silent." She was inspired to create this collection last summer and wanted to share them with Newsline readers as the war in Ukraine enters a second year. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
"And the news moves on … but the war does not.": Black shapes and lines covered in Ukrainian blue and yellow with red smudges symbolizing the unnecessary bloodshed. Blue and yellow is surrounded by a green border symbolizing the world moving on while the fighting continues. (Painting image courtesy of Cathy Ann Elias)
"Remember when everything was light blue and yellow before HE came. It is fading before our eyes.": This painting, and the two following it, all share a common theme of brightness, festiveness, calm and hope, as shown by bright blue and yellow colors, quaint abstract buildings and unique shapes and patterns. The "HE" in the three titles refers subtly not only to Russian president Vladimir Putin but also German dictator Adolf Hitler, who thrust the world into World War II and caused devastation across much of Europe. (Painting image courtesy of Cathy Ann Elias)
"It was calm and beautiful before HE came." (Painting image courtesy of Cathy Ann Elias)
"Remember what it was like to see the bright sun everywhere before HE came." (Painting image courtesy of Cathy Ann Elias)
"… and nature eventually covers up past human crimes even though we abuse her … but … please do not forget us now.": Green colors and black squiggly lines symbolize vines that tells a story of Earth reclaiming everything once humans are no longer around. However, a Ukrainian flag and buildings remind the audience to not forget about its fellow global citizens in Ukraine while we are still here. (Painting image courtesy of Cathy Ann Elias)
Art with a social-justice purpose has been part of School of Music professor Cathy Ann Elias' life since she was a child. While Elias teaches courses in subjects like popular Brazilian music, the Beatles and all periods of Western music, she has also nurtured a lifelong passion for creative expression through painting.
Growing up in the farmlands of Long Island, N.Y., Elias eventually attended Juilliard Preparatory Division. There she began painting works of art that touched on issues such as racism and crime after conversations with her classmates, who were mostly from New York City. As an adult, she has explored topics such as environmental destruction, climate change and suffering by picking up a paintbrush.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Elias, like much of the rest of the world, watched in horror at the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people. Inspired by Vincentian ideals, she reacted by sponsoring families through philanthropies like the
$1K Project Ukraine. Then last summer, at "Piano di Casciana" outside Lucca, Italy, where she spends every summer, she felt compelled to create "Ukraine, When God Is Silent," a collection of 17 abstract paintings. The medium is acrylics and watercolor, with the blue and yellow of Ukraine's flag serving as the common theme throughout. The title is taken from
an inscription made by Jewish people hiding in a cellar in Cologne, Germany, under Nazi control: "I believe in the sun, though it be dark; I believe in God, though He be silent; I believe in neighborly love, though it be unable to reveal itself."
"I can only imagine how people and their faith must be tested in moments of war where innocent people are plunged into such deep darkness—and yet they endure," says Elias.
In her current studies for a master's in divinity at Catholic Theological Union, she experienced a partial answer in the writings of Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, who wrote, "... [I]n situations in which [one] no longer experience[s] any glimmer of hope, in impossible situations, God nevertheless remains near at hand. ... [S]alvation consists in the fact that [one] still holds fast to God's invisible hand in this dark night of faith."
With the war entering its second year, Elias is sharing her paintings in Newsline to keep Ukrainians on people's minds. Some of the individual painting titles include "And the news moves on ... but the war does not," "Remember when everything was light blue and yellow before HE came. It is fading before our eyes," and "… and nature eventually covers up past human crimes even though we abuse her … but … please do not forget us now."
"One of the many sad things about war is that the press always moves on, looking for new things to report, and people for the most part forget the daily suffering of those involved," Elias says. "Syria is a great example and now Ukraine. I paint for those suffering who have no voice."
DePaul community members can view the full gallery of paintings by logging into
Russell Dorn is a manager of news and integrated content in University Marketing and Communications.