Gallery Girl Meets Nadja Shkirat

Nadja Shkirat’s photographs are strikingly bright and colourful, mixing the grotesque with the beautiful. Images show meat served on platters covered in jewels, while others capture decapitated barbie dolls, producing images that are simultaneously surreal and sublime. To Nadja, photographs are more than just a copy of something, they are an entrance to a world and a story to something that she creates with her own eyes. Commenting on beauty, consumerism and sexuality, Nadja’s work poses questions about aesthetics and social behaviors. Gallery Girl spoke to Nadja about her inspirations and her approach to photography.

Deserted by Nadja Shkirat

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

I was inspired and motivated by my art teacher Angelika Orosz during my highschool years. She pushed me to go to her art club. So my sister, friends and I went there all together. Every Friday after school we stayed for hours and had a blast. I would say that she is the reason why I decided to continue studying art. The idea to be a visual artist strengthened during my art studies and the direction to photography came into my main focus.

You were born and raised in Germany but are now based in Jerusalem, what impact did being Palestinian have on your identity growing up?

I was born and raised in Germany not just with my Palestinian father but also with my Afghan mother. My siblings and I grew up in a multicultural family with three different languages: German, Farsi and Arabic. Growing up that way had a huge impact on my identity. I don‘t just have one clear defined identity. I would describe it more as something merged together. I have three characters in me: fierce, responsible and awake. In addition I need to say that the community in my small town back in Germany always needed to emphasise that we are different in a negative way. Because of this experience I decided to go my path, to be true to myself and to embrace who I am in my young teenage years. It is a good feeling to know that I can find my home, my place and my family in three different countries.

Home by Nadja Shkirat

How is the art scene in Jerusalem different to the art scene in Germany?

The common thing about Jerusalem and Germany is that every artist is trying to explore their identity and history through photography or other mediums of art. The main difference is that the art scene in Jerusalem is more conservative.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration is coming from thoughts, ideas, mysteries and observations which are occupying my mind. I am able to visualize the mess that is in my brain into images through photography. Mostly themes like feminism, sexuality, society, theories and utopia are swirling through my head. I would say that I am also mainly drawn to controversial topics which is my main reason for doing art. We need art to criticize, to point out and to emphasize in order to show the viewers something different that results in questioning themself or results in leading an open and honest discussion.

In Quarantine by Nadja Shkirat

The first thing I notice looking at your work is the bright, playful colours – how did you go about defining your style?

When I started studying every teacher criticized me using these bright “tacky“ colors. They justified their critique because of my religious beliefs and cultural background, which was and is absolutely biased. Of course people can be influenced by their culture, but I rather see that as a beautiful inspiration and not as a reason to condemn. 

It wasn’t until my masters degree where my professor Rudolf Schäfer accepted and supported me and my way of doing art. At that point I started photographing and visualising art the way I want and the way I identify myself the most. I am not an artist to please other people‘s taste, but rather to search and find my fantasy, imagery and aesthetic, and finally to connect to people and their stories.

As well as digital, you work with analogue photography, what is your favourite medium?

Every medium has his own charm. When I first started with photography I learned digital photography, which showed me the endless possibilities. With digital photography I had the opportunity to experiment and to learn techniques and composition. Later on I started working with analog cameras. Because I’ve already had an advanced knowledge of digital photography the first steps were not difficult. For more than one year I have been doing art exclusively with analog photography. At this stage of my art career I prefer working analog, because it gives me the opportunity to really reflect about the photo I want to achieve. Analog photography still has its own aesthetics, texture and feeling, that is probably the reason a lot of artists continue working analog. 

Plastik by Nadja Shkirat

I particularly love your Plastik images, can you tell me about them?

My Plastik photo series was part of my master thesis. My work deals with surreal still lifes. I aimed to incorporate two themes into the staged world: On the one side, plastic as material, which production and disposal causes massive damage to the environment and endangers our health. On the other side, I wanted to use plastic as a symbol, which represents artificiality in the behaviour of humans.

In particular I intended to connect plastic in two different dimensions, as a material and as a metaphor, representing the artificial beauty ideal of women nowadays. In addition I decided to use aphrodisiacs, such as bananas, lobster, chocolate and fragrance, in order to connect the most

sexually charged children‘s toy these days: the Barbie doll. By adding the Barbie doll, particularly the body, I created a symbol that reflects the illusory and idealised beauty of contemporary society. Plastic becomes the epitome of our consumption. Plastic as material, on and inside people.

You also work with fashion photography, do you see this as an extension of your fine art photography?

In my opinion fashion photography is a great way to combine commercial and artistic photography at once. Another thing that I really like is that I am not working alone but in a team, where everyone has his role and place. Overall it is a great opportunity to exchange thoughts, ideas and be creative together.

Bon Appétit! by Nadja Shkirat

What are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on two projects. I have been working on “Bon Appétit!“ for more than a year now, which is an analog still life photo series. “Bon Appétit!“ describes and reflects today‘s society like a mirror in a disturbing but aesthetical way. It is basically focusing on the stereotypical idea of a woman. The perfect & alluring beauty of a woman‘s skin and body – seen in advertisements, magazines, movies and social media – is sexually exploited in our society. The analog photo series is centering on organic still lifes and biological structures and combines these with strange sexual fetishes. Humans have two basic instincts: The desire of sexual and nutritious gratification. We want to see meat. We want to eat meat. It disenchants the illusion of appearance. In the end Death reveals the truth. Meat is Meat. Sex is Sex. Pure, raw and delicious.

The other project “Vagina Dentata“ contains photo collages and illustrations. “Vagina Dentata“ describes a folk tale where it was believed that the vagina had the ability to injure or to castrate the male genitalia during sexual intercourse. In addition, this art project also deals with one of Sigmund Freud‘s psychoanalytic theories: Castration anxiety.The female genitals were and is always surrounded by mysteries, tales and religious beliefs. I chose this subject, because I didn‘t just want to explore my own gender identity but wanted to spread awareness of female sexuality.

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

My plan for the future is to grow not just as an artist but also as a human being. I am hoping to expand my knowledge, to establish myself further and to find myself at a happy and safe place. My wish is to be always surrounded by positive energy, inspiration and my lovely family.

This article was written in collaboration with Bab Iddeir Gallery

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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