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 There’s something wrong with Maya Golyshkina. Or, at least, this is what the title of her latest exhibition suggests: Something’s Wrong With Maya at Moosey Gallery is a sweeping exploration of identity, selfhood and belonging. Treating her body as sculpture, Golyshkina’s work simultaneously subverts and embraces the formal qualities of the post-internet human form through a series of "totally normal" self-portraits. writes Victoria Comstock-Kershaw.

Image courtesy of Moosey Gallery

“I’ve been a photographer since I was a child,” says Golyshkina. “Then I realised that I want to experiment more, rather than just being a painter, or just drawing landscapes. It seemed boring to me. I had a camera, and it was a really bad one, but it didn't really matter to me at that time because I just wanted to experiment.” Golyshkina’s practice came to fruition during the pandemic, where she would spend her days experimenting with selfies and materials in her room. Undertaking parallel roles of casting agent, set designer, stylist and director; her photographs see her posed against hand-crafted backgrounds, wearing egg-shell gowns and swathed in cigarettes, she incorporates a litany of everyday materials to illustrate her surreal and often very funny photographs. Her exhibition at Moosey Gallery shows a selection of these works alongside sculptures and installations. “I would say like this exhibition would describe me best as an artist and as a person,” she explains of the show, “because it explores myself, my art, my life.”

The title, There's Something Wrong With Maya, refers to her own sense of unease surrounding her identity and practice as an artist and a woman. “Coming from a classic, judgmental, conservative Russian background, I felt like society didn’t really like me.” she explains. “People would ask the question of if there was something wrong with me since I was a child. Even I was asking myself this question – am I okay? Because so many people were saying, why is she doing this? Why can't she just be normal? And then I started posting these self portraits and so many people started asking me, why am I doing this to myself?”

Images courtesy of artist

Golyshkina’s work straddles the canon of self-portrait bigshots like Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman, but there’s an undeniable post-internet distinctness to her pieces. The humour is often axiomatic and autological, with self-referencial sprinklings of meme culture scattered throughout: internet iconography from the likes of Marge Simpson to Garfield make regular appearances. Cardboard cut-outs of the artist posing for a selfie and hand-written content warnings make the line between Golyshkina’s online persona and her real-life presence progressively blurry. Golyshkina's practice is based the manipulation of her own image, presenting herself as both a cause and a consequence of the twenty-first century's merging of the virtual and the tangible. Her work invites the audience to reconsider the ways in which we construct and perform our own identities in the digital age; it's hardly surprising that she's worked on social media campaigns with the likes of Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, MM6 Maison Margiela, Camper and MSGM.

Images courtesy of artist

Identity is of course at the centre of much of her work, and much of her work adopts markedly feminist angles. “I wanted to fight and show and displease society.” she says. “Russia is a very patriarchal country. I usually hear things like not me being just a mad person, me being a mad woman. It caused, like, a fight inside of me. I was fighting with society, with myself, and with the shame and with the guilt.”

Images courtesy of the artist

“I use my body just generally." she explains, "It doesn't mean that I'm using it as a tool for being naked, or like, sexually attractive. I also always use my face not in an attractive way at all. In my old works especially, I didn't want people to concentrate on my face. It was to me such a rebellious thing against a patriarchal society. If I would look nice, they would say, Oh, she's doing this because she wants to show her body. And that's why I wanted to look ugly as fuck.” Golyshkina’s works act as unapologetic testaments to the power of self-exploration and the defiance of societal norms. “But even then, [men] still sexualise me,” she laughs. “Despite the fact that I'm like super, super ugly and I wear rolls of toilet paper. They still think that I'm doing this to attract them. It’s still such a controversial question for me, because all the things that I was doing were just for myself and they didn't have any context of being sexual. I think it pissed them off and I really liked this.” 

Images courtesy of Moosey

When asked what she hopes people will take away from Something’s Wrong With Maya, she says “I hope that people won't be scared to be themselves. I think my works show that even if you live just in your room, you can create your own reality out of everything that you see around and make something special from everyday things. I think that's why people are inspired by my works, because they are so real and natural.”

Something’s Wrong With Maya is on at Moosey (22 Camden Passage, London, N1 0PD) from the 27th April - 5th May 2024.


Victoria Comstock-Kershaw is a London-based arts journalist and contemporary art critic.


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