Female Corporeality and Religion 2023

Online Art Exhibition


The Burning Bush

Maria Martynenko-Hupalo

Papercutting ("Vytynanka")

Artillery shell casing, paper, oil pastel, acrylic on canvas

H 61 (h of the sleeve 50), d 10 cm





This piece reflects on natural processes in the female body, specifically menstruation and conception. In many cultures, women during menstruation have been considered unclean. In addition to hygienic challenges that could have been the reason for prohibiting women from participating in worship, the perception of menstruation as a period of ritual impurity had a somewhat oppressive character for women, as it isolated them from the community for some time. In this light, menstruation has been seen as something negative and disgusting, although we know it is an integral part of the reproductive system. The menstruating woman in this painting can also be associated with the haemorrhaging woman who touched Christ's garments. In traditional interpretation, it was common to read the gospel texts about the woman as indicating that she would have also been considered unclean by some people in the society. We note, though, that this is not stated in the gospel versions of the story. 

Menstruation still remains taboo in many places, something hidden and shameful. The concept of this painting suggests another approach to interpreting menstrual blood: the chalice held by the woman, which is at the level of her womb, expresses the constant sacrifice of a woman embodied in her body, which must experience bleeding, pain, and other discomforts every month, and after conception, becomes a home for a new human being during its most vulnerable period of life.

The second part of the work depicts a woman with a mandorla placed in her womb, and within the mandorla are abstract lines. The mandorla with an abstract interweaving of lines symbolizes the mystery of new life being conceived in the mother's womb. The Immaculate Virgin Mary is praised in numerous hymns of the Byzantine Liturgy as the "Burning Bush Unconsumed by Fire". This is because she became the abode of God, from whom he took his body. Her body is the place where God has been mysteriously incarnate. At the same time he remained hidden, as externally there was no indication that Mary was carrying the Son of God. She is the sanctuary in which God dwells. At the same time, we can say that every conception of a new human being is a mysterious act that takes place in secret, so every pregnant woman is, to some extent, a "burning bush" as she is not only an image of God who is life-giving, but also actively cooperates with God in giving birth to new sons and daughters of the Almighty.

The piece is painted on an artillery shell casing, reminding us of how women have to live in wartime conditions, under occupation, and how this drama of femininity unfolds amidst the war. The upper part of the work is a voluminous paper cut-out, which can be interpreted variously: as the Tree of Life or as blood vessels of human body.


Maria Martynenko-Hupalo

Maria Martynenko-Hupalo (b. 1979) is a Ukrainian artist who specializes in creating vytynankas, or papercutting. Her fascination with vytynanka began in 2013. The artist is continually exploring new forms of expression, techniques of cutting and ways of preparing paper, new types of materials, and experimenting with different ethnic, historical, and contemporary styles, as well as with three-dimensional forms. Currently, her focus is on reflecting on the war in Ukraine and how it impacts Ukrainians: those displaced and deprived of homes, physically or mentally injured, those defending their children, their values, and everything that is most precious in their lives.

Maria is a graduate of  the Ukrainian Catholic University. She teaches several courses at the Faculty of Philosophy and Theology of UCU, as well as separate courses for students of other specialties. She is interested in the connection between religion and ethics and environmental preservation. She conducts research in the field of eco-theology - a field that is just emerging in Ukraine.

She has held exhibitions, participated in projects, and charity events in various countries: Ukraine, Italy, and France.