Gulnara Samoilova: Finding Family

On exhibit February 8–March 8, 2017
Opening Reception: Wednesday, February 8th, 6-9pm at the Grady Alexis Gallery

Family photographs have a core place in the history of photography, as well as being a key subject explored by contemporary photographers. What are the implications and issues raised in the transition of this type of work from the private to the public sphere?

This exhibition gives an answer through Tatar-born artist Gulnara Samoilova's photographic series exploring memories of her childhood and family members, on the background of major historical events, such as the Second World War and the end of the Cold War and its consequences. 'Finding Family' explores the ways in which private images may be transformed into sites of history and elements of a collective biography.

Gulnara relocated from Ufa, the capital of the Bashkortostan Republic to New York City in 1992, just one year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She began working on her major series 'Lost Family'(2015-2016) after experiencing personal tragedies, namely the passing of her grandmother and her mother in the period between the early and mid-1990s. This was a time when post-Soviet reforms resulted in the privatization of state-owned assets, and the transition from a communist system towards a market economy. The discovery of her family's photo-albums during this tumultuous and period led the artist to research her extensive family, including relatives she never knew, such as her grandfather who served as a pilot in the Second World War and her maternal uncle who spent time in Siberia. Gulnara decided to open up her family albums to critical self-analysis, inviting audiences into her investigation.

In 'Lost Family' and a related series 'Hand-painted photographs' (1987-2016) Gulnara creates complex and striking compositions using original photographs from her family albums. The artists leaves important parts of a black and white photograph intact and overpaints the rest of the image with flowers, text and abstract patterns. Flowers are a significant personal motif for the artist, as they allude to both her mother's name, Rosa, or "rose," and her own, which translates to "bloom of pomegranate." The works include close-up portraits, as well as group photographs, appearing both distant and familiar, haunting lush landscapes like memories projected on a screen. Gulnara's family members and the artist herself perform representations of themselves that cross temporal and spatial boundaries, connecting with each other within the compositional space.

As she culls through formal and personal photographs, Gulnara raises questions about how to represent that which is hidden, deferred or denied. In trying to find a photographic-artistic language to address death, mourning, remembering and reparation, the artist draws on her own lived experiences while at the same time inviting audiences to find their own reflections and resonances. Weaving together past and present, Gulnara's fantastical, dream-like photo-collages are at the same time deeply personal investigations of her relatives, and a recollection of an almost forgotten era and its people. 

Artist Bio

Gulnara is a Tatar-born fine art and street photographer based in New York City. She holds a certificate in fine art from the International Center of Photography in New York City and a diploma in photography from the Moscow Poletech College. Gulnara is one of eighty-nine artists in residence at the prestigious El Barrio's Artspace PS 109. In her current work Gulnara uses black and white photographs, montages, and oil paints to explore her childhood and family. Her documentary work was published and exhibited around the world, and she has received national and international awards for her photographs, including first prize in the most prestigious World Press Photo competition, The New York Press Club, and she was named Interphoto Photographer of the Year. Gulnara's work is a part of major collections at the Museum of the City of New York, The New York Public Library, New York Historical Society, the Newseum, The Akron Museum, 9/11 Memorial Museum, and Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Her photographs are in the private collections of Elton John, Steven Kasher, Timothy Baum, and Henry Buhl.

Curator Bio

Corina L. Apostol is an art historian and curator based in New York. Currently she is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Art History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where she is writing her dissertation "Dissident Education: Socially Engaged Art from Eastern Europe in Global Context (1980-present)." She has curated exhibitions at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers as well as at galleries in Europe and the United States. Corina has taught several art history courses at Rutgers University and at the Jutland Art Academy. She has published in numerous journals and books, including a chapter on the conceptual artist Lia Perjovschi in the volume Area Studies in the Global Age: Community, Place, Identity, published by the Northern Illinois University Press (2015).