Swedish Artist Explores Cultural, Gender Evolution in Exhibit at Kulanshi Gallery


THE SKY OVER STOCKHOLM. Mixed media on canvas L. Christeseva

ASTANA – Belarussian-born, Sweden-based artist L. Christeseva has brought the bright, textured paintings and installations of her “Sustainidentity” exhibit to the Kulanshi Gallery in Astana’s Palace of Peace and Harmony, with the help of the Swedish embassy in the Kazakh capital. The exhibit was arranged in connection with Sweden’s national day on June 6.

“Based on the artist’s autobiography, Sustainidentity emphasises the idea of becoming rather than being or even being born a woman,” a Kulanshi press release explains. “It also provides an opportunity to observe how different cultures can bring changes into the concept of femininity, into our own stance and understanding of us as individuals.”

In this exhibit, which runs through June 25, her story is told through multilayered paintings as well as a variety of sculpted, recycled textiles called toiles.

The skies, seen through a thicker or thinner layer of multicoloured leaves or other obstacles, can present opportunity or oppression. Seen up close, some of the leaves are actually scraps of newspaper – a network of words and events that combine to create either a ladder or a lid.

The toiles, sculpted like female forms, take shape above a collection of bright high heeled shoes or rise out of the ground in one central installation, and show the tension between ;being; and ;becoming; a woman. The toiles speak to the processes of construction and transformation both in gender and cultural identity. “Working with toiles, Christeseva wishes to show that becoming a woman is a complex matrix extending through many dimensions and does not have any concrete final destination. Instead, this becoming is in constant flux, moving between recycling, re-thinking, re-forming, and re-configuring,” the gallery said.

Christeseva said in choosing her work for this exhibit, she was guided by her understanding of life in the post-Soviet space, but also her sense of being part of Swedish culture. “Showing works on femininity could be a tricky matter in any cultural environment, and here I would try to distance myself from East-West praxis and say that it could be as challenging in Sweden as in Kazakhstan,” she told this newspaper on June 19. “So my approach is to just tell my story and then let people to judge for themselves whether they find something there they can relate to.”

Gender issues play an important role in her work, the artist notes. “[G]ender pierces through our way of thinking about culture in general. Hence it also becomes one of the underlying elements of my art. This also builds connection to politics or, I would say, the political in our lives. Sometimes, especially when it comes to thinking about gender issues (which in many countries are still considered to be not important or even derogatory and therefore not even worth discussing), we hardly realise how much of politics is involved in our way of seeing what is masculine and what is feminine. Gender issues are closely connected to question of power. Who can define what is feminine or masculine? Who sets the norms and morals?”

Because of how culturally rooted gender identity is, bringing this particular exhibit to different parts of the world is exciting, she said. The intention is not to provide answers as to what femininity should be in any given context, she said, but to raise questions.

“You can also say that the project Sustainidentity is political, if you accept my formula that personal is political, and my personal experience of becoming the artist I am now is also a story of an individual who encountered power imbalances along the way.”

“[Christeseva’s] art is contemporary, intelligent and beautiful and represents something quite new to the artistic scene of Astana,” Ambassador of Sweden to Kazakhstan Christian Kamill told The Astana Times on June 16. “Furthermore, it explores in a very interesting way the notions of feminism and femininity. Born in Belarus, the artist also tackles issues of identity in different societies, which, all in all, makes this exhibition very exciting.”

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