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Dita Pepe: Staged Photographs from the Czech Republic

Dita Pepe, Untitled, from the series “Selfportraits”, 2001, C-print 98x98cm

Dita Pepe (Ostrava, 1973), is part of a generation of Czech artists working while under an atmosphere of intense attention from the West to the country's artistic developments, similar to what happens towards other countries from the former Soviet bloc. This attention is in order to consolidate the entrance of art rising from that territory in an artistic circuit from which it was deprived during the forty years preceding the Velvet Revolution.
As well as many of the artists benefiting from the internationalization following the increased planning of shows dedicated to art from the Czech Republic - ( In 2000 Kunstlerhaus Dresden and NBK, Berlin, showed, respectively, Bohemian Birds - Positions of Czech Contemporary Art and Überlebenskunst - Junge Künstler aus Prag. After these two exhibitions an endless list of shows followed, and finally, last year, Going and Coming took place at K&S, Berlin, curated by Karel Cisar) - works from Dita Pepe could also be widely seen outside the Czech Republic. Selfportraits Series (1999-2004) was particularly well shown in the last two years: Last Year took part in the exhibition Wirklich Wahr! Realitätsversprechen von Fotografien, at the Ruhrlandmuseum, Essen; in the festival Encontros da Imagem, Portugal; as well as in the Moskow Photobiennale, Moskovo. In the preceding year the curator Milan Knizak had selected this series for the Prague Biennale.
Selfportraits is, from one perspective, a speculation on Pepe´s personal biography. Through the staging of portraits of people she knows, whose identity she embodies and by whose side she poses, Dita Pepe plays the roles of alternative personalities from her own, or that she almost had."I feel that everything in life is relative, when I look back on my life if things had been just slightly different, I could have ended up being someone completely different from who I am now". The photographs of the Selfportraits Series are linked by the repetition of certain elements: an anonymous person, their familiar surroundings - a living room or bedroom, a street or a car - and the artist herself metamorphosed: dressed up and wearing make up that makes her as similar as possible to that chosen person and posing by her side.
The ghostly presence of the artist emphasizes the details of intimacy, profile and social background of the person and suggests an ambiguity of the identity of the artist herself. Dita Pepe suggests two narratives: one of going in and out of the skin of the people she portraits, and the other of the personal story of each of those people, which can be presumed through their personal objects.
This kind of portraying places her amongst a number of contemporary artistic positions in which the complex issues of identity are a starting and arriving point for considerations enlarged to a social - cultural context that they take part in. Her metamorphosis is, however, used differently from other artistic positions like that of Cindy Sherman, since she includes a theatrical situation which demands the presence of others rather than the artist alone.

Dita Pepe and Petr Hrubes, Untitled, from the series "Body Sofa", 2003, 70x100cm

Body Sofa (for which, as well as for Venus as a Boy, she counted on the collaboration with the photographer Petr Hrubes), is a Series from 2003 which was awarded with the first prize by the Czech Press Photo in the art category. In this series, Dita Pepe replaces herself by a model dressed by the fashion designer Pavel Ivanic, but keeps the presence of the people she knows. The chosen sceneries are now exteriors: industrial areas at the North-East of Czech Republic and a mental health asylum. Although all data is real, the combinations evoke the absurd and raise the question of knowing where normality lies. The fact that the models are repeatedly woman suggests that Dita Pepe, just as other Czech artists, proposes to think the influence of the capitalistic patterns in the image and social role of woman in the Czech Republic. At the exhibition Young Flesh (City Gallery, Prague, 2002) several female artists chose to show works related to variations of this same theme.

Dita Pepe and Petr Hrubes, Untitled, from the series "Venus as a Boy", 2004, 50x110cm

The Venus as a Boy series, which was exhibited at the Designblock 04, in Prague, is a work in which Dita Pepe invited the Czech actress Klara Issova to be involved. Pepe photographs her in the context of private situations where she does not seem to belong, where she appears as a displaced stranger but without disturbing the routine. Each work is a diptych, two images with a slight variation, which lengthens the duration of the moment, turning them into a still of an action in which elements from the preceding series are reused: identities derived from several social areas are crossed with idealized ones.

Text: Paula Januario
Translation: Sarah Stephenson
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