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Resonating Narratives: Elena Akaeva's Fearless Artistry as an Agent of Transformation

Diving into the realms of contemporary art, this review delves into the captivating work of Elena Akaeva. A performative artist and photographer, Akaeva's creations emerge as a universal language, bridging personal history, politics, and societal critique.

18 August 2023

Joana Alarcão

The ability to critically analyze beyond our stratosphere, embody a dialect that feeds our inner critic and creativity, and create a collective language that resonates with the current social and political global environment, its intersectionality earning of being called contemporary art.

Uncertainty and concealment prevail in the realm of art, leaving many perplexed about what exactly contemporary art is, apart from it being an artistic expression that transcends conventional methods. In my opinion, in addition to the necessity of effectively categorizing artwork for exhibitions and events, the specific nomenclature associated with each piece holds secondary significance. When you are constantly amid creatives from various fields and countries, you understand that the significant aspect of art lies in the language that it speaks - the language of personal and social catharsis. It's the creation of art that speaks without words, without a voice, but still connects on such a deeper level that it eradicates the air in our lungs.

A year performance by Elena Akaeva. Image courtesy of Elena Akaeva.

The artist I want to explore today, and one I believe resides within this universal language, is Elena Akaeva, a performative artist and photographer originally from Moscow who traveled to Venice and now resides in London. I came across Elena’s art on one of my art features series, called Voices of Dissent - the very text you, as readers, are currently examining - and while observing Elena's practice, what stood out to me was the clear and transparent politically charged art, embedded with personal history, identity, and fearless artistic perspectives that critically assess societies and cultures through a unique lens.

Akaeva’s performances come from a very personal space, responding to war, totalitarianism, politics, displacement, home, and the unstable situation of a migrant woman not only as abstract concepts but as lived experiences. Her body of work creates powerful visual narratives with poignant messages that are undeniable.

In performances such as Nettle, we can sense pain and oppression just by observing the stinging nettle dress in a prison cell. We don't need to read the artwork's description to understand the message of grief and homage weaved together, expressing profound admiration for the brave war zone artists who still create meaningful art despite the persecution they may face from the government.

Another of Akaeva's performances and one we discuss in her interview is called A Year, which signified a year after Russia invaded Ukraine. During the performance, the artist was dressed in a 3-meter-wide black mourning dress that covered the entire floor of the gallery. As the performance progressed, the artist hammered coffin nails into the dress, each nail symbolising a victim of the war, a coffin. This performance evokes a sense of unease, and as I compose my thoughts, it elicits a profound physical reaction. There is no need for too much artistic interpretation. This artistic performance is deeply rooted in the artist's personal experience, having lived among individuals affected by war and being personally acquainted with their suffering. The final act at the end, where the last nails are hammered to the sleeves of the dress, immobilizing the artist in a praying position, only brings home the underlying question of what the point of war is. Why do countless lives have to be lost?

Seed by Elena Akaeva. Image courtesy of Elena Akaeva.

Like a seed being planted into the subconscious of the viewer, Elena's body of work is a visual manifesto that drives audiences to engage with the pressing issues of our time. Not only the emotional weight of firsthand experiences and encounters with Ukrainian refugees and protesters but also Elena's critical discourse, which has been nourished since childhood, make her practice a skillful navigation between advocacy and artistry.

"Always keep your values in front of your eyes, so as not to be swayed by manipulation or threats. Art can save or ease the lives of the oppressed, that’s the reward." The artist told me.

With careful attention to aesthetics, metaphors, and allegories allowing her work to prompt introspection and open dialogues without veering into didacticism, Akaeva's commitment to challenging the current societal norms and ideas, even at great personal risk, reflects her unwavering devotion to using her artistic voice to inspire change and promote empathy.

Ultimately, Elena Akaeva's art is a poignant embodiment of the artist as an agent of transformation. Through her performances and photography, she fearlessly tackles profound themes of war, displacement, and identity, urging viewers to confront uncomfortable truths and reconsider their perceptions. Akaeva's work transcends borders and language, speaking directly to the human experience, and serves as a testament to the potential of art to drive social change.

Discover more about the artist by delving into our interview with Akaeva.

Cover Image:

Nettle performance by Elena Akaeva. Image courtesy of Elena Akaeva.

I’m a performance artist, poet and photographer. I was born in Moscow, Russia and currently reside in London, UK.

I’m actively engaged in the anti-war movement, and at the moment can’t return to Russia due to anti-war statements, performances and charity projects I did or took part in.

In my works, I explores topics of war, totalitarian politics, displacement, home, unstable situation of a migrant woman.

What’s on your mind?

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