Masha Reva, born in 1987, is among Ukraine’s most prominent contemporary artists, working at the intersection of fashion, contemporary art, craft design, body art and performance art.
After studying fashion design in Ukraine and abroad, the daughter of well-known Ukrainian sculptor Mykhailo Reva unexpectedly found herself at place she had never considered looking – a young artist with the prospect of a successful international career. Her laconic drawings, which combine lightness, naive formalism, and vivid colours fit comfortably on paper, textile, ceramics, walls, human skin and metal. The artist explores the possibilities of transforming a line as a primary visual element and pays particular attention to the theme of corporality. A master of collaborations, she has partner projects with fashion brands from all over the world under her belt, and has made her first steps into the art market, following a whimsical line of drawing that reflects her creative life which moves confidently toward self-understanding, experiments, and recognition.
Granary Square, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA, UK
Her idea to enrol in the famous arts college of Central Saint Martin’s lingered since Masha’s first trip to London back in 2005, where she, a student, travelled with her grandmother for a short English course. Tate Modern was a mandatory checkpoint of her introductory trip. Besides the free admission, Masha was impressed by works of her favourite modern artists of early 20th century: Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro – all which had a great influence on the formation of her artistic style.
A few years later she received the chance of a test run at the fashionable school – two weeks of studies as a prize for winning the Look into the Future young designers contest. After a course in fashion marketing and development of new concepts in fashion, in the autumn of 2012 she came back for an MA, sensationally accepted without any interview, and became the college’s first Ukrainian student ever.
The grand library of the Central Saint Martins is her favourite place in London, it was the place of her best and most difficult years of studies. "I got into the college with meagre knowledge of the fashion world and had to catch up with my peers. I didn't even know who Martin Margiela was!" Reva admits.
Her first year of studies proved to be intense: under the tutelage of legendary head of fashion department Louise Wilson, who had previously discovered John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, Masha was quick to fill the gaps in her knowledge of the fashion history and excel at creative assignments. She drew maniacally and absorbed information, and in autumn 2013, taking a leave to recharge her batteries, she brought home terabytes of digitised books and archival magazines which she still keeps in her studio apartment at 29 Reitarska St.
35 East 21st Street, New York, NY, USA
In August 2010, Masha was working as an intern at the studio of famous American designer Thakoon Panichgul, located in the very heart of New York’s Fashion District. The frantic life of the metropolis and the intensity of the local fashion industry stunned the laid-back Ukrainian: on her very first day she was attached to an experienced intern who was taking care of countless tasks, running around the huge city. "This was my first introduction to a real design studio of a world-famous brand, and an entrance into the fashion business," the artist recalls.
The Kyiv National University of Technology and Design had not prepared her for this – Ukrainian education in the field of design focuses on technical know-how: drawing, construction, cutting, and fabrics. Masha had demonstrated skill in these back in her graduation collection that went on to win the grand prize of a prestigious young designers contest Look into the Future and won the Harper’s Bazaar Fashion Forward programme which awarded her with an internship at Thakoon.
In 2016, New York reappeared on the artist’s path – this time in the shape of a letter from an assistant to famous designer Rachel Comey: the latter liked Masha’s drawings on Instagram and offered her the chance to take part in the creation of a capsule collection as a designer of prints. In autumn 2016 the world saw Rachel Comey dresses and tops with Reva’s drawings, in which the artist contemplated the American dream.
Aalmoezenierstraat 2, Antwerp, Belgium
Masha Reva’s graduation collection received acclaim for their innovative designs and she was also lauded for her own prints created with the use of digital collage. In 2010, this collection won over the juries of two influential competitions in Ukraine, while photos from the presentational photoshoot Merger appeared on nearly all fashion media around the world. The Ukrainian designer’s original ideas were praised by Walter Van Beirendonck, Belgian designer and representative of seminal group Antwerp Six, and head of the Fashion Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, one of the world’s top five fashion schools. Masha Reva received an internship at the Walter Van Beirendonck studio where she organised archives, took part in preparations for the exhibition of a new collection at the MoMu museum and its show at the Men’s Fashion Week Paris.
Antwerp’s oeuvre with its grand architecture and vibrant creative community had an immense effect on Masha. She participated in the life of a co-living for artists where she was accepted after a serious interview, learned the skill of touching up her lips while riding a bike, and met with friends at the legendary cafe Witzli-Poetzli just a step away from the Antwerp Cathedral.
Despite an interesting portfolio and the experience of working with Beirendonck, her interview did not impress the admissions committee of the Fashion Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. "I had not prepared well, didn’t pay enough attention to the presentation of my ideas. But I guess it was for the best," the artist believes.
5 Rue des Haudriettes, Paris, France
An exciting moment in every designer’s life is the presentation of their collection in Paris for the first time. She came to the global fashion capital in March 2014 with her collection Volya ("Freedom") inspired by the Revolution of Dignity that took place in Ukraine in winter of 2013-2014. The designer took an active part in the events on Maidan and created a recognisable print with a heart that became one of the visual symbols of the protests. Her CSM graduation work was dedicated to the Ukrainian revolution, which was the basis of the commercial collection for the Paris showroom. Normally, politically themed clothing is a tough sell, but this time it interested the buyers for an iconic chain of concept stores – Opening Ceremony. The following autumn, Masha Reva sweatshirts and gowns with bold prints and quotes from Taras Shevchenko, created in collaboration with long-standing partner, Kyiv streetwear brand Syndicate, popped up in the boutiques of Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo.
In March 2016, Masha went to Paris for the second time. She presented a small collection of clothes with linear prints and created her first ever performance with painting a human body in the Ukrainian designers’ showroom at the Ukrainian Culture and Information Centre. Her arrival at body art was a reference to the Kyiv Kids project presented six months earlier: Reva had covered strangers’ bodies with her drawings reflecting her first impressions of them, while photographer Armen Parsadanov took portraits. The idea of body painting was an organic extension of Reva’s musings on the meaning of a body for art, and art for a body, which eventually led to her loss of interest in fashion design in favour of artistic practice.
Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands
In the spring of 2014, the designer worked on an idea for a collaborative project – GUILD of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and global online crafts platform Etsy dedicated to the digitalisation of the global cultural heritage and working with it. In July Masha saw her name displayed in a museum for the first time: on a placard next to a white dress with a print made of "stickers" with drawings of objects displayed in the painting Still Life with a Golden Goblet by Pieter de Ring.
Korinthou 17, Glyfada 166 74, Greece
In the spring of 2018 Masha, while on vacation in Greece, stayed at the Athens apartment of her friend Nadiia Shapoval, Ukrainian stylist and founder of the Nadiia brand. In between lazy walks across the ancient city, Reva decorated a flowerpot found by Nadia in the street with her signature drawings.
Soon after, they presented a collaborative line of ceramic objects Nadiia x Masha Reva, which included plates, jugs and traditional qumans made by Nadiia and painted by Masha. While working on their first collection, the girls went in search of inspiration on an expedition across Ciscarpathia, one of the country’s foremost ceramic regions. In particular, they visited the famous market in the town of Kosiv, a place that gathers craftspeople from all over western and central Ukraine every Saturday.
Via Tortona, 27, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy
In April 2019, the creative duo Nadiia x Masha Reva presented their works at the MODERN_IS Mexhibition hosted by Superstudio gallery, which brought together Ukrainian crafters at Europe’s main design showcase, Salone del Mobile in Milan.
RESTAURANT OURSIN, 60 Av. des Champs-Élysées, Париж, Франція
One of the ceramic creations of the Nadiia x Masha Reva duo, a big two-legged amphora, stands in a fashionable Parisian restaurant – Oursin, owned by fashion designer Simon Porte Jacqemus. Masha worked with the famous French clothing designer and founder of Jacquemus back in 2017 – their first joint work was a photography project By the Sea, created together with photographer Armen Parsadanov for the book Marseille je t'aime. In it, Reva drew parallels between Jacqeumus’ native Marseille and the resort town of Buhaz near Odesa, where she grew up.
Royal Opera House, Bow St, London WC2E 9DD, UK
22 March 2019 was the day of a first and only show at the Royal Opera Theatre that concluded a special project in Reva’s life – the choreographic performance of The Rite involving actors with Down Syndrome. The performance based on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring and was staged by Masha’s friend, Slovak director Adam Csoka Keller, who had invited Reva to become the project’s creative director.
The premiere of Stravinsky’s classic modernist creation, the score for which he largely wrote at his Ustyluh mansion took place on 29 May 1913 at the Théâtre Champs-Elysées in Paris. Sergei Diaghilev was the impresario, Kyiv native and star of the Diaghilev troupe Vaclav Nizhynskiy choreographed the first production, while renowned expert of the Slavic pantheism Nikolai Rerikh created the decorations. However, the London production of 2019 only kept part of the name and the unstoppable energy of nature from the original work – the score and visual design had been created from scratch.
According to Masha, the project was a big challenge both creatively and emotionally. In preparation for the performance the creative team travelled to the town of Lewis in the south of Sussex, the place of residence of the lead actor, prominent British performer, civic activist and Knight of the Order of the British Empire, Sarah Gordy. Masha created 23 costumes, decorations and an overall visual style for the production, working for the first time in her career as part of a team of over 60. Following the performance, dedicated to World Down Syndrome Day, the creative platform Nowness released a short film about the project.
Refshaleøen, Copenhagen, Danmark
In late 2019, founder of the intriguing Scandinavian brand – Carin Rodebjer, found inspiration in Nadiia: Masha Reva ceramics and offered Nadiia the job of stylist for the Rodebjer show at the Copenhagen Fashion Week. She also invited Masha to develop the set design. With the support of the Kyiv architecture bureau Forma Reva designed large-scale decorations made of textiles painted with her signature lines.
"Carin came to Kyiv, we walked around the city a lot and realised that we have common interests and similar views of art and fashion," Reva says. The artist travelled to the Rodebjer headquarters to learn about the capital of Sweden and her new object of work, the brand’s flagship store, where she created an impressive window display based on her own decorations for the show.
Creative projects in retail spaces hold a special place in the artist’s portfolio. Art objects inspired by her Odesa series sweatshirt collection adorned the multibrand store Wut Berlin in Tokyo (2014); sculptures and an art performance were a decoration at the cosmetics concept store Tamburins in Seoul (2018); and in 2019, she painted murals in the Avgvst jewellery boutique in Yekaterinburg and designed a shop window for the TSUM in Kyiv.
Hotel El Fuerte Mahahual, Mahahual, Quintana Roo, Mexico
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020 caught Reva on vacation with her family in Mexico – her father, sculptor Mykhailo Reva’s dream destination for many years. To fulfil this dream on the occasion of the family patriarch’s 60th birthday, the small company of Ukrainians travelled across half of the world, through Miami and Mexico City to the popular Caribbean resort of Playa del Carmen.
Hostage to lockdown, they settled in the quiet fisherman’s village of Mahahual where divers travel to admire the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Over nine weeks, the walls in their rented accommodation had been covered with sketches of Mykhailo, Masha and her boyfriend, Kyiv artist Ivan Hrabko. "Dad and Vanya decided to create sculptures using found objects. Anything that the ocean washed ashore became their trophy, adjusted for their artistic practices," Masha recollects. Soon she also got involved, evidencing her interest in environmental issues, and she continued working on an unfinished photo project about childhood on the seaside that she had been preparing for the NordArt international exhibition at Germany’s Düseeldorf.
Having returned to Ukraine, Masha and her family self-isolated at their dacha in Buhaz, enjoying the calm family idyll and documenting ephemeral artistic practices with photography: "I felt I simply had no choice, I needed to document this incredible environment." Soon after, an art report about these few months was published in American Vogue.
2020 became the year for mastering a new medium for Masha – photography. Working on creative ideas and set design for the ad campaign of the fall-winter collection of Ukrainian clothing brand IENKI IENKI, Masha decided to photograph it herself: "This was a big gamble, since I didn’t know what to do with the camera; this undertaking has many technical elements I am not familiar with". This shoot became a sort of tribute to her friend, photographer Armen Parsadanov who had passed in 2018: Reva used his camera and re-created his characteristic compositions, mostly medium-depth shots.