katya ilina

Rosemary & Thyme (2021) is a photographic project that examines masculinity through body positivity and celebrates the beauty of fluidity in physical form. Explorations of gender representation can often overlook the complicated masculine body image, relying on views of the physically and emotionally strong male. Being ‘in control’ of oneself and life’s circumstances continue to dominate Western ideologies and expectations of men.

My practice explores the similarities and connections in human stories to highlight closeness and bonds that forge communities. In this series, portraiture is used to question notions of masculine and feminine as a fluid spectrum versus static binaries. Inspired by European traditions of female nude painting which have shaped visual standards of femininity, these photographs adopt and apply gestures from canonical artworks to contemporary male bodies to question the fabrication of gender roles and identities. Portraits are paired with abstract representations of plant life. Plants, especially those with flowers, have complex reproductive morphology and vary between hermaphrodites, gendered and fluid. This juxtaposition extends the opportunity for identity negotiation, further complicating ideas of a ‘gendered species’.

 The juxtaposition of portraits of humans with still life works of other species from nature provides a commentary on the very notion of what is “natural.”

Each sitter photographed in the series represents different backgrounds and sexual identities providing countless interpretative contexts. In my time spent discussing the project with models, it became clear to me how significant latent societal expectations and restrictions are on male gender performance: constructed patriarchal societies exnominating masculine ideologies onto a wider population. The portraits in Rosemary & Thyme slowly unravel the ways masculinity is coded, socially constructed, and performed.

This project would not be possible without the trust and vulnerability of my models, to whom I am deeply grateful for. The series title alludes to symbolic meanings attached to herbs in Medieval Europe: rosemary–love, and thyme–courage.

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