“Varvara was represented by the gallery I had worked for in my first job in London, so we met during her first solo exhibition, for which she had painted mostly large scale, abstract, colourful canvases. Her paintings were expressive, beautiful and skilled, so we kept in touch. I have since shown works by Varvara ranging from liquid graphite drawings, enamels and photographs to videos, light boxes and sculptural installations. I am usually skeptical about working with too many media but Varvara can jump with ease between them and realises works of incredible poignancy, often large-scale. Varvara’s medium is the creative spirit, which is boundless, yet levelheaded, an inspiring attitude to collaborate with.”
Varvara Shavrova’s work is above all remarkable for its demonstrativeness and diversity – both in terms of form as well as content. From her latest drawings documenting the European migrant crisis to her most impressive and widespread Opera project, or her early Borders series consisting of paintings, photographs, drawings and video set against the backdrop of the longest border in the world, shared between Russia and China.
What unites Varvara’s works despite their differing approaches is a genuine interest in people and their living conditions based on the economic, political, social and cultural issues they are confronted with. Often taking her own current life situation as a starting point, a main subject evolved through the exploration and critical analysis of borders, personal and geographical, and their still persistent power and imprint on our notion of freedom and belonging. Varvara’s Windows on the Hutong project for example, where she documented the rapidly disappearing traditional neighbourhoods in Beijing. Generally, Shavrova is interested in the vanishing process of traditional culture and the transformation of cultural heritages as in the case of the Peking Opera. A multi-channel video projection, which focuses on the mutation of the opera artists from male to female, and vive versa. The project investigates issues of personal identity, sexuality and gender using the example of these admired artists, whose true identities and personal hardships can still not be lived out openly in contemporary China.
However universal the issues addressed are, Shavrova’s projects are also linked to her own – or her family’s history. In the case of the Borders project she explores the metaphysical terrain of her own global nomadism—from Russia, England, Namibia, South Africa, and Ireland to China. Or in her most recent work Mapping Fates, the artist brings her family history to life by using historical photographs that become templates for tapestries, woven fabrics and textile art works; letters that survived many wars and conflicts and a sound track based on stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
In their aesthetic presentation Shavrova’s works are seeking for the big stage and embody an innate desire for drama. Grand gestures in macroscopic recording as video or photography, or roughly sketched sceneries of fleeing people in black and white as in her series of 36 Migrant Crisis Series drawings based on images from the Irish media on the migrant crisis.
Shavrova engages her audience in the process of reflective empathy that becomes an active element in her work. Presented as spatial, object based or performative interaction they act as a kind of multi-sensory ‘story board’, where her work colonizes the space or a certain terrain to make connections between historic and current narratives.
Varvara had many public exhibitions, amongst others at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Espacio Cultural El Tanque in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Gallery of Photography, Dublin and across institutions in China.
Exhibitions at the gallery:
Should I Stay or Should I go? (group show)
The Sea is the Limit, 2016 (group show)
The Opera, 2014 (solo show)
Windows on the Hutong, 2011 (solo show)
Sale, 2009 (group show)
Borders, 2008 (solo show)
Hand tufted Uxminster wool carpet objects, hessian canvas backing, thread, digital embroidery on velvet, steel support
700 x 550 cm