Light and Heavy
Katerina Belkina presents her series Light and Heavy, an exploration of female emancipation and independence at the crossroad of East and West. The series presents images of independent, self-sufficient and dynamic women, but who are contrasted against the background of an average Russian city: grey, frozen and crushing in its architecture and attitudes.
The eastern perception and social position of women implies that, despite intelligence or success, a woman can only be whole when paired with a man. In the western world, however, a man is not a key element for the self-realisation of a woman. The cultural tradition of Russia absorbed elements of both of these ideas: women are charged with over-responsibility and a constant need to keep up with men. In addition to this particular kind of ‘equalness’, women are seen as a commodity and an object. Under the pressure of society, a pressure that women also transfer to apply to themselves, women are in a permanent state of both competing for her place next to the man and presenting herself as a commodity to be consumed by men.
Inspired and featuring Belkina’s hometown of Samara, these images of independent and dynamic women are presented in contrast to the overbearing city they find themselves in. Samara is a city notable only for being average: average in its architecture, appearance and people, but also in the way it treats its female inhabitants. A city of industry, it creates and sustains, but also destroys and suppresses. This suppression is most felt by its women. They represent the pinnacle of this city’s – and, by extension of its anonymity, every city’s – attitude.
This is a feeling Belkina exposed herself to as part of creating the series. Using herself, along with other, statistically average women, as models, they went through the same conflicting feelings of exposure and empowerment that women feel to varying degrees every day.
The works depict no men, however, their presence is felt through the atmosphere and setting of the images. The frozen architecture, ringing emptiness and stagnant air encapsulate the manliness that these women are surrounded by, a crushing presence that they are unable to escape from. Physically and morally, the women have little protection from this constant and suppressive masculine energy: their underwear is their last protection.
It is an uncomfortable existence in this anonymous city that Light and Heavy’s dynamic female protagonists seek to escape from, but she has no reassurance that she is running to a better place. Society dictates that they must keep running, without promise of an end point or place: if she were to stop, she would not exist as a woman. This is an existence she did not choose, but must continue with.
Text: Bethany Grange-Sales, Germany