Polixeni Papapetrou is an artist who explores the relationship between history, contemporary culture, identity and being. Her subject matter has included Elvis Presley fans, Marilyn Monroe impersonators, circus performers and body builders. Since 2002 Papapetrou has focused on the cultural positioning of childhood. Creating fantastical worlds that feature her children, transformed with masks and costumes and set against both real and imagined backdrops, the characters in her images inhabit other times and places. By focusing on the theatricality and face of childhood, she explores an unconscious realm between the real and the imaginary, archetype and free play, child and adult and photography’s capacity to bridge truth and fiction.
Papapetrou has been the recipient of numerous grants from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria. She is the recipient of the MAMA Art Foundation National Photography Prize (2016), Windsor Art Award (2015), the Josephine Ulrick and Win Shubert Photography Award (2009) and the Albury Regional Art Gallery National Photographic Award (2003).
The series ‘Eden’ was inspired by a project that had been commissioned by the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne in 2015. I was asked to create works in response to the Melbourne General Cemetery, Australia. I made a photograph of my daughter Olympia called ‘Running under Skies’. Clad in a black dress and bonnet and holding a spray of peppercorn branches, she runs over the unmarked grave section in the cemetery. It was important to me to make this work as I am to be buried in this cemetery and wanted to memorialize my daughter in the space; another site that will become important to her.
When I was conceiving how to make ‘Eden’ an odd thought kept running through my mind: if these were to be my last photographs what would I have to say about my life and my work? As it turns out, that voice was prescient and I am glad to have followed my instinct to create work about how we are nature. By reflecting on the changing body of young people as they shed one skin for another, we are embedded in the cycles of life. The seasons of growth, blossoming, and wilting are visibly illustrated in the life cycle of the flower which also highlights our mortality.
In ‘Eden’ I used the language of flowers to explore life itself. The girls in the photographs are adorned with floral arrangements to reflect on their metamorphosis from child to adolescent and adolescent to adult, and a oneness with the world, fertility and the cycles of life. The girls are enclosed in a floral embrace that symbolize their unity and acceptance of this miraculous thing we call life.
I become almost dizzy with the scent of flowers and this is my metaphor for all the headiness and beauty I have experienced in this lifetime.
To see more of Polixeni’s work, please visit her website.