To explore the inner life of womanhood is not an easy task, whether you be a sociologist, historian, or an artist. One is rather aware that it’s not particularly insightful or helpful to generalize about the feminine experience. As well, truly critical means, and methods of inquiry often escape us, however much we wish to shake off ideas, ideals and myths. After all we exist in a society that has made up its mind about what it means to be female, and what a woman is -or should be.
Responding to this artificial or socially inscribed ideation of womanhood, Russian photographer Kristina Varaksina’s vision is one of often solitary women, their contemplative portraits evoking feelings of despair, yearning, failure, hope and love.
People are often set within artificial environments, or costumed as half animal and half human, echoing legends and folktales. The artist describes the creatures populating her photographs as “collective images of my cultural heritage combined with modern culture.”
Much of the artist’s work responds to the commercial a societal depiction of femininity and both a promotion and adherence to unrealistic “norms” or socially inscribed ideas of gender. Kristina’s work seeks to express the real lived feminine experience, in a meditative solitary manner, allowing her viewer to explore ideas of gender, sexuality, values, motherhood, and inequity in an organic and meaningful way.
She reveals her artistic purpose is “to capture human emotion and the psychological impressions of my subjects’ mind – permitting the characters to project their internal reality. I wish to explore the perspectives of women and children, evoking their thoughts, dreams, and hopes.”
In Kristina’s series, Mystery of the Female Series one can see the tradition of annunciation imagery, particularly in the white room with a table and a flower. This is of course, deeply evocative, the depiction of the Virgin being one of the most iconic, and unachievable feminine ideal.
Nonetheless, the stories told here are those of real women, the artist herself and the experiences of women she knows. In these pictures, Kristina explores women’s lives and phases. Purity shows a woman dressed as a nun. She signifies the artificial goal of achieving “feminine perfection” personified as a place of sterility and invisible shackles.
Give and Lose confronts the life changing feelings of pregnancy (the heavy weight of this phase symbolized by the ball and chain). Dreams Remain recognizes the problems of societal pressure on women to achieve “perfect motherhood” as well as the crisis of identity many women feel.
Many of Kristina’s pieces show women in cerebral solitude, although occasionally there is sometimes a sense of fear or anxiety, while other scenes seem erotic. This space of aloneness responds to what the artist characterizes as a “censorious attitude towards women.”
Knitting was inspired in part by the painting of the Dutch Masters, and yet contains a more profane set of motifs, the knitter alone sits inside, and her yarn symbolizes the passage and life.
In this work, and others, Kristina recoups the feminine experience and communicates not only the difficulties of societal pressure on women but also explores the rich inner life of women, whether as artists, writers, mothers, crafters or simply just living as a female in contemporary society. The richness and complexity of these experiences resist distillation into symbols and idealized models of perfection, and instead, are told in the minds and hearts of women, embodied in Kristina’s pictures.