Sailboats and Swans
Exhibition through December 22, 2012
The Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin has spent the past three years in Russian and Ukrainian prisions- seven to be exact. There she, with the help of her husband, photographed inmates. From youths to elderly, special facilities for boys and others for mothers with children the dingy yet vibrant frames are seductive and crippling. The prisions that Chelbin chose are not what we in the states would first imagine when we hear the word penitentiary, or prison, or even jail. Rather than individual barred cells they are open halls with rows of beds, decoratively colored walls of paint or ornate paper, tables with cloths and flowers. There is ever a clue of institutionalization- be it a uniform, a tattoo, or the common space shared that gives away what offen seems an angelic face. Some of the inmates do indeed look stereotypically "criminal," but most seem like someone we would pass on the street with a smile. We find as we look deeper and longer at the work and the empty eyes who's gaze holds us with tight grip that the decorative and communal actually undermine hope. There emerges a sense that GQ's Justin O'Neill describes well as an "unattainable nirvana."
Images remain on view at Meislin gallery and a newly released text is also available for purchase.
Andrea Meislin Gallery