Bad Ossendorf: Women in Prison
September 2 – 26, 2010
Guest exhibition at Neues Kunstforum, Alteburger Wall 1, Köln
"When I see these pictures, I was thinking that I am sad. Angry."
(Woman at JVA Ossendorf)
There is no happiness in the eyes, they fit to the pose and the outer appearance. Neither the clothes, the hairdo just styled by a hairdresser, the jewelry, nor the makeup cover up the traces that life has left on the soul and on the skin. Sadness speaks from the eyes of the women portrayed; the skin shamelessly betrays drug use.
Imprisoned Venus is the title of the photographic project that Igor Chepikov began in 2005: between February and November he regularly visited JVA Ossendorf in Cologne on Thursdays for five to six hours and photographed the women imprisoned there. To this end he painted white a wall of the room that was reserved for his photo shoot. Fifty-six portraits resulted, black-and-white and color; a photographic work that Chepikov titled Bad Ossendorf at the end, because that is what the women at the JVA called it themselves. The name has a double meaning for them; “bad” in its sense in English and the ironic German usage that indicates a spa town or health retreat.
Igor Chepikov is interested in how the women deal with the loss of their freedom and what taking their portrait might do for the women. How does the self-image in confrontation with the photographic image make them feel like strangers. Above all what does “beauty” mean in the extreme situation of imprisonment that these women occupy?
Scans of writings by the photographed women complete the exhibition, which the Forum für Fotografie shows in the Neues Kunstforum. The basis of these texts is a questionnaire that Igor Chepikov prepared and asked the women to fill out.The writings of the women went beyond simply answering the questions and gave an unsparing look into the conditions of their lives in prison.
Of his Bad Ossendorf Project Chepikov described it as “an exciting experience that was also very sad. I want to show that life has its sad aspects that one doesn’t always understand.”
Estella Kühmstedt, translated by Thea Miklowski
Voices from JVA Ossendorf
“I saw the photos today … and at closer inspection it overwhelmed it. I was from one minute to the next dead sad. … I felt the expression on my face was indifferent and very sad.”
“My first thoughts as I saw my photos were frightening, as I have changed for the worse since I’ve been incarcerated. … If my kids would see these photos, they would say: ‘no, that is not our mother, not the way we know her.'”
“‘Beautiful’ to me means when one stays natural and has a glow.”
Igor Chepikov was born April 2, 1963, in Moscow. From 1981 to 1986, he studied architecture at the School of Architecture in Moscow. Art history and drawing are also intensively taught there; consequently the certified architect became active as a visual artist following his studies. In 1991, Chepikov came to Cologne, where he lives and works to this day. In 2001, the artist said of photography: “There are things that are better photographed than painted, for example, meat.” For his first photographic project, The opposite of life, he made photographs in a slaughterhouse.
Photographs: © Igor Chepikov