In celebration of the ongoing LensCulture Portrait Awards 2016, we will be publishing a series of inspiring features on great contemporary portraiture. Enjoy!

The true nature of national identity and our elemental need to bond with patriotism is questioned in the face of portraits of nationalists of a country that doesn’t exist, but whose symbols have exerted a potent enough influence to maintain a frozen conflict for 25 years.

During the split of the USSR this sliver of land at the edge of Moldova did not willingly secede but claimed independence as a Soviet Republic. Invisible on any maps outside of its borders, it remains unrecognized by any UN state. But in 1992 a bloody war was fought between Moldovans and Transnistrian separatists and now it remains caught between its Soviet history, current isolation and a dream of annexation by Russia.

— Justin Barton