Artist Talk: Justyna Mielnikiewicz
Monday, October 16
Aperture Foundation, in collaboration with the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, is pleased to present an artist talk with Justyna Mielnikiewicz. Based in Tbilisi, Georgia, Mielnikiewicz is the 2016 recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for her project A Diverging Frontier: Russia and Its Neighbors. Passionate about people and their stories, Mielnikiewicz creates photographs that are sensitive studies of life in the areas surrounding the Russian border more than two decades following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Mielnikiewicz’s concerns are complex, often discussing issues that relate to these regions such as the abstractness of borders, unity and disunity, and how personal beliefs can be exploited by leaders to incite conflict and destabilize. However, the photos themselves are grounded in the everyday, perhaps even the seemingly mundane—as Mielnikiewicz explains: “Even in the time of war, people still get up, brush their teeth, have to do their shopping. They go meet their friends, they marry and they die. In a peaceful time it’s easier, in wartime it’s harder. But war or revolution or unrest doesn’t stop real life.”
Justyna Mielnikiewicz (b. 1973) grew up in Poland and started her career as a photographer after graduating from Jagiellonian University. Since 2002 she has been based in the Republic of Georgia. In her work, she mainly focuses on the countries of the former Soviet Union. The most important part of her professional activity is devoted to personal, long-term projects. In 2014, she published her first book, Woman with a Monkey: Caucasus in Short Notes and Photographs. She is currently finishing her long-term project on Ukraine titled A Ukraine Runs Through It, exploring modern Ukraine in turmoil, with the Dnieper River as a metaphor of the present split in the country. With the 2016 grant she won from the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, she is working on a new project that explores the role of ethnicity in identity formation for Russians residing in former Soviet states, twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography was established in 1978 following the death of W. Eugene Smith, the legendary American photo-essayist. Today, it is one of the most prestigious honors in documentary photography. Every year it recognizes a photographer whose past work and proposed project, as judged by a panel of experts, follow the tradition of Smith’s concerned photography and the dedicated compassion exhibited during his forty-five-year career. The application deadline is in early June.
More information can be found at smithfund.org.
The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund is supported by generous contributions from The Incite Project, Herb Ritts Foundation, Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, and Canon USA. Additional support is provided by Photo District News, International Center of Photography (ICP), School of Visual Arts (SVA) BFA Photography, MFA Photography, Video and Related Media departments, MediaStorm, Brilliant Graphics, Synergy Communications, and Aperture Foundation.
The Smith Talks and other programs at Aperture are supported, in part, by the Grace Jones Richardson Trust and William Talbott Hillman Foundation, and by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State legislature and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council, and with additional support from generous individuals, including the Board of Trustees and Members of Aperture Foundation.
Image: Justyna Mielnikiewicz, Varvara Nikolayenko on stage in the theater where she performs the role of the Soviet Pioneer, Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, November 2008