Zhanna Gladko “Inciting Force” (9-23.10)


Since 2011, Zhanna Gladko has been systematically exploring such cultural constructs as masculinity and femininity. In her work, she addresses a rich tradition of self-portrait, uses archival materials, creates installations, turns to cultural texts and the experience of her own family.

Her extensive multi-dimensional project “Inciting Force” consists of several series. The exhibition presents self-portraits from four of them – “Inciting Force. Self-Portraits” (2011-2016), “HEroic ”(2016) and “Double self-portrait ”(2015),“ Not Alain Delon ”(2016-2018).

Zhanna embodies various images of women and men. By acting and removing subsequent masks, each of which seems oddly familiar to us, she questions our visual habits. She refers to constructs that have existed in culture for hundreds of years and are especially powerful in photography, media and advertising. The artist draws attention to the stereotypes that form the next generations of women and men, assigning them quite definite and at the same time limited social roles. Here, a woman appears weak, dependent and, as a rule, submissive in the face of male power.

The women Zhanna portrays differ from those we have got used to thanks to media, advertising, or, largely speaking, art history. We will not find in her works any restrained detachment, assertive manifestation of sexuality, seduction, or romantic looks. Many are presented according to the so-called “male stereotype”. Not only does Zhanna question the very definitions of masculine and feminine in culture, but also the way power and the ability for independent and free action are represented by these sociocultural categories. Is a woman whose image is conveyed through gestures that are traditionally considered masculine also more powerful and valuable?

Self-portraits from “Inciting Force. Self-Portraits” series were created at different times and under different circumstances. Zhanna tries on the images of characters who can be described as cultural icons. In one of the portraits, the situation reverses and a man takes the floor in front of the photographer’s lens representing Zhanna. In another one – Zhanna is covered with the images of famous Belarusian artists. This is an attempt to draw attention to the exclusively patriarchal art market in the country.

In the series «HEroic» Zhanna plays the role of famous women she does not identify herself with, but of whom she reminds her friends and acquaintances. She has chosen special manifestations of these characters – images that look bold, heroic and warlike. In contemporary popular culture, those are often used to show a woman as a person equal to a man: successful, authoritative, professional.

In the next two works from “Not Alain Delon” series, Zhanna turns to the history of her family and the relationship with her father, which served as material for her early projects. She appears as a famous actor who reminds her of the father as a young man. It is a double masquerade where he tries to conform to an unattainable ideal. The same is true for another self-portrait from “Self-portarits” series where she is photographed dressed in her father’s clothes. “This is an attempt to feel the father’s force, get in touch with his authority and a desire to become like him,” Zhanna writes.

The presentation ends up with a piece from “Double self-portrait” series – a direct reference to the Gospel of Thomas. “Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life”. Jesus said, “See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female (element) that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Referring to the words about the women’s imperfection, Zhanna tries to “catch up” with the male ideal, for three months doing special exercises for her arms’ muscles. Self-portraits show her before and after these workouts. However, does the change that we see really matter?

Project presented as part of “Be a Lady” exhibition