City & Guilds of London School of Art, 2016, MA
Dina Varpahovsky’s challenging, tragicomic work is informed by her own childhood spent in 1970s Russia, combined with current media and Facebook representations of childhood. She is particularly focused on painting and drawing images of young girls, questioning the way we continue to represent girlhood as sweet, pretty and pink, perversely domesticating yet sexualising young girls from a very early age.
Varpahovsky’s paintings deliberately problematise the images that we circulate on social media, often serving to project idealised versions of ourselves. She reveals the dominating, predatory side of children, inviting us to reflect upon the different world of adults and children and where the boundaries of influence lie.
Cruelty, competitiveness and power structures are played out in her layered, saccharine paintings. American grins of toothless girls posing in a simulated sexual way move from cute to uncanny. Future ‘mean girls’, vampiric adults-in-waiting, blow kisses that challenge the viewer to question whether they are directing or being directed. Varpahovsky empathises with this desperate posturing, indicating that good and evil lies within us all.
Princess Spa throws into sharp focus the poisonous acidic greens that belie the deceitfulness and falsity of digitally enhanced versions of everyday life, the mundane made magical by an Instagram filter. Fairy Kiss utilizes dirty pinks to reflect a soiled innocence muddied by adult projections and fears.
400 Likes I draws on regional Russian news coverage of an investigation into a Russian orphanage, where the staff turned a blind eye to older girls dominating, punishing and torturing younger children. Its counterpart, 400 Likes II, features young girls dutifully demonstrating their sexy-posing skills under the direction of a proud parent. Whether the menacing presence of the perpetrator is revealed, as in 400 Likes I, or hidden behind the camera, both paintings are Varpahovsky’s passionate comment on the vulnerability of young children.