Tintera is delighted to present DUST: Past & Present, a solo exhibition by Xenia Nikolskaya. The twenty-seven colour photographs on view, an exploration of abandoned colonial-era buildings in Egypt, include and build upon images from the series DUST, a body of work Nikolskaya completed in 2011 and published as a book, DUST: Egypt’s Forgotten Architecture. The exhibition DUST: Past & Present includes several images that have been taken since 2011 as the project continues and are being seen here for the first time.
Nikolskaya’s photographs, utilising long exposures that radiate a natural warm light, show us once sumptuous interiors from Egypt’s Belle Époque period (1850–1950) in a state of abandonment and decay. Devoid of people or signs of present-day habitation the work readily falls into the genre of ‘ruin photography’, the origins of which can be traced back to the start of the medium when travellers to the region sought to capture the monuments and the fallen ruins of past ‘glorious’ civilizations. In a more contemporary interpretation of the genre, the ‘ruins’ are our modern-day urban decay. Richly printed on fine art Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper to bring out the texture and fabric of each room as if one could reach out and feel the different surfaces, the photographs can be seen as a celebration of decay and ruin without regard to the people who once lived there or to the history of the place. But throughout her work, Nikolskaya conscientiously noted the name of each palace and stately home, providing an important and urgently needed record of these urban spaces, many of which no longer exist or are in the process of regeneration or demolition.
When Nikolskaya began photographing in 2006 Egypt was in the midst of a contemporary cultural heritage preservation campaign, one in which the Belle Époque era took centre stage. In this light one can see Nikolskaya’s images as part of that recent activity of ‘heritage making’, pushed on by nostalgia for a recent, more fashionable past.
But for Nikolskaya, who initially came to Egypt as an archaeological photographer, her work is less a call to action or a lament for the past. Nikolskaya instead continues to work on these spaces as modern archaeological ruins, digging deeper with her camera to bring us not only the stories of the past but also those of the present.
Xenia Nikolskaya (b.1973) is a Russian-Swedish photographer and curator living between Cairo, Stockholm and St. Petersburg. Nikolskaya is currently a lecturer in photography at the German University in Cairo. She is also a contributor to Akkasah, the Center for Photography at New York University Abu Dhabi, an archive of the photographic heritage of the Middle East and North Africa. She is also engaged in a long-term project to archive the work of her late father, the photographer and academic Vladimir Nikitin, who was for many years the head of the Department of Visual Journalism, Faculty of Journalism, at St. Petersburg State University. Nikolskaya’s newest self-published book is The House My Grandfather Built (2020), a collection of photographs, historical documents and text which tells the story of Nikolskaya’s grandparents: their exile in the 1930s to a Soviet-era forced labour camp in Siberia.
TINTERA photographic art consultancy
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TINTERA photographic art consultancy
17 Bahgat Aly Street, Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
September 30, 2020 to November 14, 2020