Zhe’s latest Belleville art project brings stunning light to plight of Ukraine

Some the already-wrapped trees in Project Ukraine. Jaffee Com

Belleville’s Artist-in-residence Athena Zhe says she can’t sleep until she gets an early morning message her sister and other family members have made it through another night. The Ukrainian-born artist constantly worries about her loved ones and fears for the safety of others in her homeland as it continues to come under siege by Russian forces.

So to draw attention to the invasion and occupation that has been raging since Feb. 24, Zhe began Project Ukraine.

The project is a powerful artistic statement: The trees in Belleville Park are draped in blue and yellow — the colors of the Ukrainian flag — and are a call to help this proud nation in its hour of need.

With the help of several volunteers, she’s wrapped dozens of trees with fabric after getting approval from Essex County officials.

On Sunday, she and others will wrap more trees in the park.

“I hope people will see these trees and do something to help the people of Ukraine,” Zhe said. “People can reach out to their politicians, they can raise awareness on social media, they can make donations. There’s so much that each and every person can do to stop this.”

Since moving to Belleville in 2018, Zhe has been given the title of Belleville’s official artist after using her talents and time to beautify the township. The largest of her installations was created in 2020, when she turned a large swath of concrete wall along the Passaic River on Main Street into a colorful mural honoring Belleville’s title as the Cherry Blossom Capital of America.

Recently, several pieces of blue-and-yellow artwork calling for a peaceful ending to the Russian invasion were hung in Belleville Township Hall.

“I am not a soldier,” Zhe said. “I don’t know how to shoot or defend my homeland. Making art is what I do and this is how I can call attention to this invasion and call for people to do something now.”

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