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Corps révélés

by Tania Brimson

"Hidden beneath woollen Soviet wraps, enhanced by come-hither Wonderbras or shyly hinted at by skirts just a shade too short, the human body is on show at Paris’s Russian Tea Room. Gallery owner Lisa Fetissova has intelligently curated an exhibition that brings together many of the Slavic photographers she's got to know over the years, freely exploring the ways in which representations of the body reflect more or less subtle developments in morality and sexuality in the (former) USSR before and after the fall of the iron curtain.

Switching from one era to another without claiming to be exhaustive, the 40 or so shots manage to convey a sense of change through folds of flesh – and it's a radical change, while less straightforward than we are often led to think. There are 1930s archive shots collected by Igor Savchenko, the women neat and tidy without a hair out of place. There are furtively liberated cleavages in the 70s, responding to the madcap promise of the '70s for the lens of Antanas Sutkus. There's a worn slip proudly exhibited to Igor Moukhin's camera, in a countryside shaken by Perestroika. Portrait by portrait, the photographs break free of the Soviet stranglehold. But then, without warning, there are serious setbacks.

Take, for example, a Playboy-style 2005 pinup, whose bunny ears wave a welcome to the lure of contemporary ‘liberalisation’. She looks insipid and dated next to the raging youth of the 1970s, with their rebelliously mussed hair and voluptuous femininity. Then there are the models of socialist realism who, disregarding their austere airs, reveal their sensual curves in Moukhin’s darkroom. Are they really so different from the beautiful young naked things, sculpted by geometric shadows on the island of Kronstadt, that mix the aesthetics of constructivism with an ultra-stylised erotic vibe?

These skilful confrontations sketch out a deliciously double-sided portrait of the ‘Eastern Bloc’, which in the final analysis is nebulous and complex. There isn’t a worse before and a better after; only the contradictory fluctuations of time and of bodies. Just ask the gallery staff if you want more information; they take great pleasure in guiding visitors through the shots, before leaving you to make your own way through the counter-currents".


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