five female post-soviet artists you need to know
Meet the young generation of artists emerging from behind the Iron Curtain.
The time will come when there will be no need to categorize artists depending on where they come from -- a time when the background of the artist in the globalized world won't matter anymore. However strongly we want to believe that we live in this world already, it's only been 26 years since the fall of the Berlin wall which signified the start of that major historical shift. Today, the borders are getting harder and harder to cross again -- physical walls may fall but new mental walls are always being built to replace.
The new generation of artists are emerging from behind the Iron Curtain take on the challenge of confronting the controversial heritage of Soviet taboos surrounding the body and sexuality, political conservatism, and patriarchal systems. They know that freedom and equality are something to constantly fight for, and their tools are diverse -- from replicating Beyonce's choreography in the Bulgarian mountains, to turning the male gaze on itself and crafting super hero alter-egos. Here are five post-Soviet feminist artists you need to know.
Originally from Moscow, Goldsmiths graduate Maria Gorodeckaya explores the nature of female desire in her work: often suppressed, conflicted, and definitely culturally underrepresented. Through her work women, objectified and treated as sexual objects for centuries, finally get the chance to reclaim their gaze. How not to lose yourself facing your own lust? Does your brain have to approve what turns on your body? Sexual power dynamics, confusions and obsessions are among the key topics. Gorodeckaya started out working with photography -- mainly sexually charged portraits of men and boys -- but now also works with poetry, graffiti and sculpture using piercing, sex toys, and beeswax as a reference to sacred religious practices, and ballet shoes as a metaphor for restraint and beauty.
My first encounter with Gery Georgieva's work was a video of her reenacting choreography from Beyonce's "Single Ladies" on the top of the mountain dressed in a traditional Bulgarian Rodopi costume. The Bulgarian artist often mixes pop cultural iconography with folk myths and artefacts. The juxtaposition allows her to reach a great deal of people while studying cultural appropriation and mimicry, and tap into powerful feminine archetypes (isn't Beyonce a real goddess, after all?). In her latest work, "Balkan Idol," Georgieva appears as a fictional pop star in the settings crucial to Balkan identity -- first in Buzludzha, the ruined former communist party headquarters in Balkan mountains, and then in a modern pop-folk club called Romantika Princess.
Most of Taus Makchacheva's works are set in Dagestan, the mountainous Caucasus in the south of Russia, a land of traditional hypermasculinity, shocking contrasts in wealth, mindblowing landscapes, and plenty of political instability. Traditional gender roles in Dagestani society are one of Makchacheva's key topics: she has a superhero alter ego, Super Taus, who symbolizes invisible female power. Most of her deeds remain undocumented and forgotten, save for a random viral video. Notably, a lot of Makhacheva's video works feature men fulfilling her commands and acting out her concepts to subvert traditional gender dynamics.
Polish artist Joanna Piotrowska exposes the physical impact of invisible power structures have on physical bodies. Oppression we're hardly aware of shines through in the way her subjects move, breathe and freeze in front of the camera in stiff atmosphere of inner struggle. Piotrowska's critically acclaimed book FROWST explored family relationship beyond the classic smiley shots -- in the atmosphere of strange intimacy and awkward yet sincere poses. In 2015 Piotrowska won the Jerwood/Photoworks Prize which allowed her to create a project confronting the passive roles usually imposed on teenage girls: in Piotrowska's images they released their inner powers reenacting poses the artist gleaned from self-defence manuals.
Born in Ukraine, Masha Batsea has lived in Moscow, Kiev and New York with her parents, before relocating to Berlin, then London. Used to the rapid change of settings and contexts, she channels perfectly the impact of the contemporary culture on our lives and sense of self. Her project Yala Yolo portrayed the daily appropriation of Muslim culture in the West. She wants to explore the similiarities in "getting a kebab in a plastic box on your casual drunken Friday night, or Rihanna doing a photoshoot inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque wearing a hijab," as Batsea perfectly put it herself. She is also interested in identity and sexuality in the digital age -- and the way we almost subconsciously absorb political context of our lives from the media environment.