The protagonists of Alexandra Polina’s series “Masks, Myths and Subjects” are all members of visible minorities who were born, raised, and educated in Germany—and yet Polina’s project consciously chooses to present them in contexts that highlight their “other-ness” rather than their German citizenship.

Polina’s portraits are shot using fabrics and props that highlight assumptions made by viewers about the subjects’ personal histories. For example, a woman of East Asian heritage is depicted in front of a poster printed with images of cherry blossoms, a conventional marker symbolizing Japan. Polina photographs her subjects in these “clichéd, folkloric settings” as a way of underlining the experiences of these people as they move throughout their daily lives in Germany. “My images deal with a social gap created by the prejudiced, stigmatized view,” she says. “The result is a collage of experiences that illuminates the realities and common social condition of living [here] as a perceived foreigner.”

© Alexandra Polina

The project is well-timed—Germany heads to the polls in a few weeks for general elections, and the country’s immigration policy under Angela Merkel has gone through varying periods of intense criticism. Polina’s photographs force us, as viewers, to challenge the expectations and prejudices that result from uninformed surface judgments.

Polina’s series also raises questions about the nature of personal identity: how many of our national signifiers are self-defined, and how many of them are forced by the people around us—not only our peers, but random passers-by and casual acquaintances? For a huge number of people living in Germany and abroad, how they identify themselves and how others (from private citizens to entire governments) choose to categorize them can be completely different. This discrepancy has major repercussions on everything from social interactions to the status of their citizenship. Polina’s portraits confront us with with the personal—and societal—resonances of these questions, the effects of which will reverberate widely in the decades to come.

—LensCulture

Editors’ note: Polina’s series will be exhibited at Organ Vida International Photography Festival in Zagreb from September 4 - 9, 2017. The festival, now in its 9th edition, will showcase an impressive array of emerging work alongside renowned talents.