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Not portraits, not landscapes

Having first been introdcued to Polish-born London-based painter Mela Yerka's work at Maria Stenfors Gallery in London some time ago, we had Mela freely write a text for us on the occasion of the opening of her solo exhibition at Kamarade last week. The show notably presents a series of paintings of 19th century nonconformist women who despite their efforts, are mostly remembered for their relations with prominent men of the era. Also presented is a series of remarkable paintings depiciting the Red Planet.

If there is something in our modern culture that is valued above anything else, it is by far one's ambitions and individualism. I am interested in the destructive side of that individualism; in the Icarian drive to achieve regardless of grave consequences, or even welcoming them as the cause for our cultural survival.

I am a female artist and I am indebted to all those women who dared to be individualists before me. In the 19th century, it was the likes of George Sand, Delfina Potocka, Lola Montez, or Rachel Felix who are now remembered to have won a name for themselves. Yet, the main way for them to achieve this in the male-dominated world was through sex, extramarital affairs, intrigue, money, politics, romance, and deception. And they often paid a price for challenging the rules: social ostracism, moral persecution, public ridicule, even imprisonment, or death.

Could this be the fate of all pioneers — gambling to achieve a lot for a disproportionally high price? The imminent manned mission to Mars will soon name the next hero of the entire human race. But this does not make the venture in smallest bit less suicidal. Those first people to walk on the Red Planet, and to experience Martian dusk and dawn, will on our behalf realize yet another absurd and primitive human ambition: to discover, conquer, and tame what still remains beyond our reach.

The paintings of 19th century women are not portraits, and the paintings of Mars are not landscapes. Instead, I am interested in the cultural resonation of those depictions of people and places — that nonconformist women from 150 years ago became an embodiment of individualism, and that a view from Mars is so powerful to fuel ambitions of an entire species.

Mela Yerka's solo exhibition at Kamarade runs through June 12 (by appointment).

For more information about Mela's work and the show, please visit:

Photo credits:

Slide image on main page: Karen David

All other images accompanying the text by Anna Kleberg (<3).

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