DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Faculty art keeps Ukrainians top of mind as war enters second year

Faculty art keeps Ukrainians top of mind as war enters second year

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 OneDrive.

Russell Dorn is a manager of news and integrated content in University Marketing and Communications.​