Sasha Kurmaz on the political overtones of his photographs

Sasha Kurmaz is a photographer based in Kiev, Ukraine; his work is featured in LYRA’s first issue – Lust.

LYRA: When did you start taken photographs?

SASHA: The end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. Honestly, I was tired of making graffiti. It also has the benefit of being legal… less tiring.

L: And, from this transition, where there any artists who had a particular influence on you?

S: Well, my main influences still come from graffiti: both the art and the culture. But, I am inspired by artists like Boris Mikhailov: those who capture something of the post-Soviet world.

L: What are you conveying by contrasting the naked body, in its tininess and fragility, with the gigantic, brutal, Soviet monuments of Kiev?

S: Nudity, in and of itself, matters little to me: it is simply a way of communicating a certain meaning. In this, local context is important. As Ukraine has a very conservative society, physicality, sexuality and naked body acquire political overtones, and act as a weapon against conservatism, conformism and religious fanaticism.

L: Bearing their role as ‘weapons’ in mind, do you see your models as collaborators or subjects?

S: Sometimes the model is a collaborator, yes; sometimes they’re simply the material I use to express ideas, like any other.

L: And why the monuments in the background?

S: They are fascinating because the past is fascinating for an artist. Ukraine’s recent history has been about the search for a post-Soviet identity, yet this is impossible because it is impossible to erase the past: it has to be a synthesis. The monuments are part of this difficult part of history, and yet I would like to keep them. By featuring the monuments in my photos, I lash out against the attempt to erase the past, which is dangerous. Moreover, they represent some good things: public space that is not completely commercial and modernism. When they’re destroyed, they are replaced with shopping centers: monuments to the new Ukraine. They’re no better.

L: Your work has received quite a lot of attention in the West: what has its reception been in Ukraine.

S: No one’s paid it any attention in Ukraine, actually.

L: And are there any other contemporary Ukrainian artists, and creative’s, you’d recommend we look at?

S: There are many, but you should check out the fashion designers Yasia Khomenko and Masha Reva; the graphic designer Dmytro Prutkin; the publisher Dana Pavychko and the music producers Andrey Severin and Boris Stepanenko.