As the rain subsides and warmth spreads across the hills, waking up the California poppies among a chorus of new greenery, Rita Soyfertiscarefully places tiles into an elaborate design crafted specially for the community that will soon gather along the pathways surrounding the new Castro Valley Marketplace.
Rita‘s art has been a vehicle for creating new life in communities since she and a group of colleagues created a theater out of rubble in Kiev after the Cold War. Her specialty was designing the sets and the costumes.
“We built it from nothing,” she said. “Underneath the building was the space they gave us, and we redid the entire theater.”
Her inspiration for her artwork often focuses on connection, which is possibly why she adores public art projects.Whether it be connection between history and present day, between human beings and nature, or nature and the seasons, Rita creates art about these special relationships we all have with the world around us.
She spoke with me on the phone about the pieces that went up on the walls of the Marketplace to give some insight to the inspiration for her designs.
What was the initial concept for this mural? How has it evolved?
We were thinking about making a place. Not just a mosaic, but a place where people could be attracted to sit and enjoy the restaurant.
With that said I was thinking about a marketplace itself I think it’s a big idea to have a place like this— being local and serving local people.
I thought it would be great to celebrate that or to have something celebratory. That’s where the people dancing, and musicians came from. But I was also inspired by the old fashion gathering in the village–– which to me is coming together and dancing but also food.
As anartist, I thought of doing portraits of fruits and vegetables and flowers, but also poultry and other forms of life––kind of an inspirational piece making people inside the fruits and vegetables. To make them part of the nature.
Can you tell us about the pieces?
I thought about how Castro Valley began— because there were farms, right?
I thought it was representative of community life; growing and growth and being connected to the earth and the nature. I thoughtabout how we’re so detached nowadays to that— so the tree somewhat represents that connection. If you look closely, the mosaic isactuallytwo trees which are kind of twisting around each other. I placed the trees in the corner because it’s a focal point. It’s more like a decorative image, but it also brings up a connection between earth and sky and growth and you can go with the messages.
But it also has personal touch, it connects to my childhood where my parents had a garden, I know firsthand how important it is to be connected— even though as a child you don’t register that, but I still remember how wonderful it was.
What about this project reminds you of your childhood?
I grew up in Ukraine, where all fruits and vegetables are seasonal. You wouldn’t see strawberries in the middle of March or April like you do in today’s grocery stores.
It’s remarkable the mountains of apples we would collect in the falland we would store them for the whole winterin the basement. It was amazing! It was bare in October all the leaves would come down and nothing was colorful, but you see these mountains of red and yellow apples shining and smelling great and all winter long. By the end of the week my father would drive through the snow to collect the fresh apples. It was quite a treat.
You've been involved in many community arts projects, what do you particularly enjoy about public art competitions?
Of course, it belongs to the public!It’s not on display not in my studio, it’s already staged. It’s serving purposes beside being a wall. It’s a creative space where people can get together and change their mood. It could restore or bring new life to— like in Dublin there was a fountain that was beaten up and destroyed. By adding a mosaic, it brings renewal.
What does art mean to the community during difficult times?
I hope that the colors and lines and what I already installed could bring some uplifting or better mood or joy. We will go through that, hard times pass.
Chernobyl passed. My grandmother and my mom lived through WorldWar IImy grandfather was a soldier. I just know that the hard times will go away and hopefully be normal again soon.
Not to say that Chernobyl and War World II just passed and everything went back to normal. People are living through horrible tragedies, sorrow and loss, but people can regain strength to enjoy life. My hope is that our changing world will find strength soon.
Until then, I’ll be going on with my daily routines and spending time with my daughter.