Lara Zankoul’s elegant photographic mythology unravels gender and the human psyche with staunch, hefty grace.
Zankoul’s brooding surrealism is a subtle dismantling of human and animal, myth and truth. Her ambitious compositions, which realise impossible scenarios without the aid of digital manipulation, have made Zankoul an international name in the art world, with solo shows across Europe and the Middle East, as well as selling work at Christie’s in Dubai. Both clean and minimal, Zankoul’s aesthetic undercuts visual codes of fashion photography with a magical realist vision of coarse femininity.
- Solo show, As cold as a white stone, Ayyam Gallery, Al Quoz, 2016 and Beirut, 2017
- Group exhibition, The Road To Elysium, at HEIST Gallery, London, 2014
- Christie’s Auction, Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art Part II, Abu Dhabi, 2013
- Exhibited at International Photography Festival, Photomed, Toulon, 2013
- Recipient at the Shabab Ayyam Photography Competition, 2011
Her works combine elements of fashion photography with magical realism, and use a predominantly pastel colour pallette. Motifs such as octopuses, birds, snakes, and anthropomorphic creatures writhe and gloat in sand and water; and billowing cellophane, minimalist architecture and ethereal light recall Greek gods and Madonnas. With the sadistic fantasticism of an Angela Carter tale, Zankoul aligns human and beast, underpinning her seemingly soft aesthetic with a grim yet alluring disquietude.
Empathy and the broader human psyche are central to Zankoul’s work. As Cold as a White Stone, her solo show at the Ayyam Gallery in 2017, was a collection of serene photographs taken at the marble quarries of Carrara which explore the delicacy of human interaction. In Duality (2016), two identical women with pale porcelain skin, long inky black hair, and matching silk black dresses, stand gently resting head to head. Their stark tones imitate the harsh, repetitive marble strata that envelops them, and their ambiguous pose is tense: they are both loving and reserved, threatening and defensive. Two sides of a single character, steely twins, or carnal angels engaged in a determined act of telepathy, the women perform the difficult yet beautiful act of human understanding.
Throughout her practice, Zankoul plays with notions of femininity. The whimsical sentiment of her work, along with predominantly female muses, both point to and resist archetypes of gendered beauty. The Divine Feminine (2019), depicting a woman bathed in golden light and draped in fragile fabric veiling her naked body, is a work reminiscent of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (1485), or Michelangelo’s marble portrayals of Madonna; Original Sin (2017) is a photograph that depicts a bearded albino man, with a snake around his neck referring to the Garden of Eden. These explicit nods to history and religion invert grand gendered histories in an ironic contemporary gesture: Zankoul modernizes the subjects and, through discreet details, she adds a slight twist. Reclaiming tenderness with grit and tenacity, Zankoul’s work is a playful, mystic essay on the human condition—savage, tender, bleak, and magnificent.
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