Irina Nakhova ‘Top Management,’ 2013. From ‘Without a Title’ project, Laminated print on vinyl, board, parachute silk 75 x 118 inches. Image courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery
NEW YORK, NY—When the 56th Venice Biennale opens in 2015, Irina Nakhova will be representing Russia, and she will be the first woman to have a solo exhibition in the history of the Russian Pavilion. For an artist who has been striving to make a mark in her artistic career for almost 30 years, this is great achievement. It is a well-deserved accomplishment for Nakhova, who has relentlessly toiled to prove herself in a career dominated by men. In addition to having had over 30 solo exhibitions in North America, Europe, and Russia, she has also been contributing to the next generation of artist through teaching. In 2013, Nakhova won Russia’s prestigious Kandinsky Prize for Project of the Year, an award reserved for the best art project created by a Russian artist.
The project that won Nakhova the prestigious Kandinsky Prize for Project of the Year is presently on display at the Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York in an exhibition titled Irina Nakhova: Moscow Diary. Titled Without a Title, this is the first time this installationis been shown in the United States. The installation consists of manipulated photographs derived from Nakhova’s personal and family archive. Presented in a variety of media, the archive images date from the 1920’s to the present. Also featured are Skins (2009), photo sculptures Pillows (1997) and several paintings from the installation Renovation (2012).
One of the images in this show is Top Management, 2013. This is a photograph of the executives of a company, often taken at after very important events. What is clear from the picture is that all the top executives are men: there is not even one woman in the picture. But this picture is not just about the top management in a company, it also has a political undertone, especially for an artist coming from a country where the highest political positions are held by men. Top Management, 2013 is a protest of this patriarchal culture that has come to define not only Russia but also many other courtiers. Nakhova’s disdain for the culture that subjugates women is expressed with the defacement of the faces of the men in the photo with red paint.
Nakhova’s narrative of gender roles in the Russian is further articulated in Figure Skaters, 2013. Unlike Top Management, 2013 that is dominated by men, Figure Skaters, 2013 is dominated by girls and women, standing in the center of an ice rink. While this could be just a photograph of Nakhova’s family members, the insertion of this image into a gender discourse and power relationship makes it pertinent in Russia’s history. Although the faces of the girls have been scratched off, the image accentuate the notion that women can be entertainers and not part of the Top Management.
Some of the images in Irina Nakhova: Moscow Diary point to the issues of identity and the struggle for self expression. On some of the photos, tattoos are inscribed on hidden parts of the body. In Skin #4, Brooke, 2010, for instance, heads of tigers and golfers are inscribed on the back and buttocks of an individual. On another image, Skin # 10, Alison, 2010, the portrait of Jesus is inscribed on the back of a figure, pointing to the individual’s association with Christianity. There are also portraits of people etched onto pillows. They come with titles like Pillow (woman), Pillow (Man Front), and Pillow (Man Back).
A graduate of the Moscow Institute of Graphic Arts in 1978, Irina Nakhova was born in 1955. An installation artist and academically trained painter, Nakhova shares her home and studio between Moscow and New Jersey. A member of the Moscow Conceptual School, Nakhova has shown her works in galleries and museum across the globe. She has also thought art in several art institutions. She first gained recognition when her work Rooms (1983–‐7), the first “total installation” in Russia, achieved extraordinary acclaim. There is great hope that her work for the 56th Venice Biennale will bring glory not just to Russia but also female artists across the globes, who continue to struggle to make their mark in this profession dominated by men.