contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / May 2019

Receiving Orders. Salome and St. John (series: Revival)
Katerina Belkina

Courtesy Lilja Zakirova Gallery, Heusden a/d Maas, Netherlands

Photography and digital drawing
Archival pigment print
100 cm x 72 cm
Edition of 8 plus 2 artist’s proof

“Receiving Orders. Salome and St John” by Katerina Belkina shows a young woman, sitting in a straight posture with slight straddled and bent legs on a cardboard box. She is dressed in red tights, a pink long tank top and wears headphones. With both hands, supported by her left leg, she holds another cardboard box with reddish traces at the visible lower front angle. Although her torso and head are slightly directed to her left, her view focusses to the right. The room seems to have slate floor and the walls are sandy painted, but leaving the bricks shine through. In the background, there is a window opening to a cityscape with high-risen buildings and industry. Even though, it is clearly a contemporary photo, the composition and the colours reminds to renaissance paintings.

In reference to the title, the young woman is a contemporary Salome. The legendary Salome danced for her stepfather Herod. As a reward, he promised her with an oath to give her whatever she would ask him. Instructed by her mother Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist, who was imprisoned for criticising Herod and Herodias for their unlawful marriage. Bound to his oath, Herod presented John’s head on a silver plate.

Regarding the image in this sense, Salome’s clothing and her body posture suggest that she finished her dance. The headphones refer to the interference of Herodias, who might have whispered her desire through them. Perhaps, she is still giving orders, since the Salome seems to listen attentively. Nonetheless, John have been already beheaded. The red spots indicate that his head might be in the carton and his blood is soaking through the cardboard.

Katerina’s image was inspired by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen’s “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” from 1524. It was created on the occasion of the Rijksstudio Award 2017, which honoured artworks inspired by masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Cornelisz van Oostsanen’s version of the Salome, transfers the often interpreted woman into his time. Her clothing and environment are likewise the image composition and painting style typical for the northern Renaissance.

Katerina adopted the principal pictorial elements as the colours and even the so classic outlook through a window. Nevertheless, she transferred her Salome into our present. The view with its contemporary urban landscape is far away from the peaceful renaissance sceneries. The traditional bonnet is replaced by the headphones, which indicate not only the hidden communication between Herodias and her daughter, but – as the artist stated – also symbolise music and youth (along with the clothing) and refer to our constant exposure to the mass media and their influence on us. Finally the cardboard box, that replaces the silver plate, hides the brutality of the event, although if not completely. For the artist the box makes an allusion to the contemporary gangster culture, where body parts are sent in cartons to enemies or victims, as often suggested in films.

Besides writers and composers like Oscar Wilde and Richard Strauss, the Salome inspired numerous visual artists. Botticelli painted her as well as Caravaggio. In the northern Renaissance artists like Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer treated the subject. Starting from the second half of the 19th century the Salome became even more popular and Gustave Moreau painted her several times. Nearly all depictions have in common that Herodia’s daughter is still dancing or shown with John the Baptist’s head. A sitting Salome after her dance as Katerina portrayed her is new. Also the hidden head veils the subject. Only the title reveals the story behind the photo. The addition “Receiving Orders” points to the fact that the beheading was Herodia’s idea, not the one of her daughter. Accordingly, her averted view could be interpreted as disgust about the murder. In examples by Caravaggio and others, Salome shows a similar expression. Nevertheless, the mien of Katerina’s Salome could be also one of suspicion or even cruelty. Thereby, the artist revives the different concepts of Salome and creates a new interpretation of her: she is not only victim of her mother’s intrigue or devious femme fatale, but also a self-confident young woman who knows about her own dark sides and who is influenced by her environment as we all are.


Katerina Belkina

Born 1974 in Kuibyschew, today Samara, Russia, Katerina Belkina grew up in an artistic environment, educated by her mother, also a visual artist. She first studied painting at the Art School and the Petrow-Vodkin Art Academy and afterwards at the school for Photography of Michael Musorin, all in her hometown.

During and after her studies, she worked at a publishing house and was computer graphic designer for a television channel. At the same time, Katerina followed her own artistic carrier, which was rewarded soon by several exhibitions in Russia and the United States. In 2007, she was nominated for the Russian Kandinsky Prize. Since then, she had numerous solo and group shows, not only in Russia but also internationally (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Italy, Hungary, Turkey, Kosovo, South Korea and United States). In 2015, she was awarded the International Lucas-Cranach-Prize and one year later, she won the Hasselblad Masters’ Competition.

In Katerina’s oeuvre, the influence of painting is evident. Frequently her photos remind to works of this discipline. Nevertheless, it is rarely that she reproduces one special picture. Mostly it is the composition, stylistic elements, colouring and light direction, which make her photos so familiar to us. Even though the works pick up legends, biblical stories or fairy tales, there are mainly (female) portraits, often self-portraits. At the same time, they transfer the protagonists into our contemporary present. Therefore, they question the story behind and our current time.

The series “Revival”, where our artwork of the month of May 2019 is taken from, illustrates Katerina’s method. Stylistically and thematically, she refers to the Renaissance and revives this influencing epoch in a current technique. Nevertheless, her protagonists are today’s people, with contemporary problems and feelings: inter alia a pregnant women, a father with child, a woman with “Personal Identity” and “Receiving Orders. Salome and St. John”. In March 2019, most photos of this series were on view at the MIA Photo Fair in Milan, presented by the Dutch Galerie Lilja Zakirova.

Recently (10 – 26 April 2019), Katerina participated in the group exhibition “Belkina, Dóka, Wakultschik Portraits and Storytelling” at the Faur Zsófi Galéria in Budapest, Hungary. The gallery selected photos of the series “Empty Spaces”, where the artist questions the relationship between the individual and the alienated city. From May 4 until June 8 (2019), her works are on view at the Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy in her solo exhibition “Venice Repast”, with still-life’s and Katerina’s homages to prominent painters. From May 11 until May 26 she will participate in the brau.ART 10 “Unzehnsiert” in Dessau, Germany and until August 4 (2019) she has the solo show “Katerina Belkina: Dream Walkers & Magic Things” at the Till Richter Museum in Buggenhagen, Germany. In the context of the Grimm Fairy Tales Project, the artist presents oeuvres inspired by the Grimm’s fairy tales.

Katerina lives and works in Berlin, Germany.