Sun, 19 Jan 2003

Polina Sirosh: Portrait of successful young photographer

Damaso Reyes, Contributor, Sanur, Bali

It is hard to find a twenty-six-year-old artist that splits her time between St. Petersburg and New York City these days, but there isn't much that is usual about Russian photographer Polina Sirosh, who is currently holding an exhibition at Pala Restaurantin Sanur, Bali.

The young photographer grew up during the tumultuous years of the perestroika in Russia, the era of openness and liberalization which ultimately played a role in the downfall of the Soviet government. Full of upheaval herself, Sirosh wasn't happy with the career choices a smart young woman had at the time.

"You could be a lawyer or an accountant then," she told The Jakarta Post during a recent interview. "I just couldn't see what it was all for."

At age 15 and again when she was 17, Sirosh took trips outside Russia to San Francisco, where she fell in love with America. "The first trip infected me with the idea that there is something outside of Russia," she recalled.

In order to pursue her love of travel, she decided to study International Relations and Diplomacy at St. Petersburg State University. But before she could finish the course, her love of art, which first arose during her childhood, took hold. She decided, like so many before her, that New York was the place where she would be able to realize her dreams.

"It took me one and a half years before I moved to New York," Sirosh said, describing the inner turmoil she felt when faced with the decision. "I felt like, should I be safe here (in St. Petersburg), or take a risk and move to New York?"

When she did move, she found a cosmopolitan city full of artists and she settled herself into the Upper East Side of Manhattan, only a few blocks away from Central Park and world- famous museums like the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Walking through the park and the galleries of the museums inspired her to photograph the beauty she saw. At the same time, she began developing a body of work based upon her interactions, often intimate, with her friends.

This work formed the basis of her first exhibition, mostly of erotic photography. It was while she was showing slides of statues she had taken in Europe and New York when a friend walked by and she came up with the idea of combining the two, which has culminated in her current body of work and exhibition: The Loves of Zeus.

Her work draws heavily on classical Greek mythology to illustrate the relationships between the gods and mortals, between Zeus and his many lovers, who give birth to the pantheon of Greek mythological characters.

"They (Greek myths) were written two thousand years ago, but we haven't changed much since in our relationships," Sirosh said, describing the inspiration of her work. "Was it the gods who created humans, or mortals who created the gods to idealize their own beliefs?"

Using models who were friends helped create a safe space for the artist and subjects to explore the identities of characters like Artemis, Europa and Demeter. The soft and intimate nudes are juxtaposed with close-ups for classic statues taken in museums from New York to Florence.

"For me, photography is the opposite of the representation of reality," Sirosh said when describing her approach to the medium.

"It is about creating my fantasies and showing them in the photographs." She cites French Impressionists Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir and Russian Romanticists Mikhail Vrubel, Leon Bakst and Alexander Benois as her primary influences. Clearly it is painters, and not photographers, who have communicated to this young woman.

Even at her age, Sirosh has already held several shows and intends to continue with her photographic work. After being invited to Indonesia for her current show, she plans on pursuing a project on Hindu dance and Asian movement.

This is the first time in Asia for Sirosh, and she plans on learning as much as she can while she is here, taking that knowledge and influence with her into the future.