StartPoint Prize 2016

Marina Sztefanu

Historical truth, national identity, and identity – these are the themes that form the framework of Marina Sztefanu’s explorations. The impulse for her diploma work came from an accidentally discovered family photograph, hitherto unknown to the artist, depicting parents with four children and a leopard skin in the background. The photograph was taken sometime between 1910 and 1920, somewhere between Djibouti and Addis Ababa, east Africa, where the artist’s great-grandfather worked as the stationmaster of the local railway network. The artist’s grandfather had just spent ten years of his life romping about the African savannah with the children of Greeks, Frenchmen, Italians and Africans, an early experience which would become the wellspring of a plethora of family myths and fantasies – the children of various nations playing together despite their differences, prancing about amongst giraffes and ostriches, under the rosy glow of the African sunset. These reminiscences and stories formed a grandiose multicultural scenario. The artist approaches it in her diploma work within the framework of general and anthropologically verifiable context, with the ambition of substantiating her personal belief that society can function based on the principles of multiculturalism. The landscape décor and scale models in her installation have the power to evoke diverse worlds and create connections between these locations and utopias which are independent of time and space. Instead of false pathos and making history and historical truth suit one’s own ends, the artist offers, in the active space of sloped surface, a space for assimilation and integration. In terms of form, she does not define either the horizon or perspective – the space is mutable and undefined in shape, but in spite of the figures struggling for balance, as a whole it appears harmonious. The work has no didactic or narrative ambitions, but instead offers an opportunity for contemplation, to be confronted through observation, to travel mentally in one’s imagination.