Polixeni Papapetrou has come to national and international attention over the past decade for her elaborate photo tableaux with child actors. In particular, her earlier works largely featured her young daughter, Olympia who assumed the dress and character of Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the real child subjects such as Xie Kitchen, and the writer-aka amateur photographer Reverend Dodgson. In recent years natural settings and legends of the Australian bush, from the Wimmera to Lake Mungo, have replaced the painted backdrops and the children have been transformed by animal masks into anthropomorphic protagonists of traditional precautionary fairytales.
In the series Haunted Country from 2006, Papapetrou drew upon the story of the Duff children who were lost in Victoria in 1867. It was a story that gripped the nation, and over a Century later was cited in Bruce Chatwin’s book Songlines: Australia was indeed ‘a country of lost children’. Compared to the heart pulling of 19th and early 20th century illustrators of this story, Papapetrou adopted a cool unemotive stance – the Duff children viewed from a distant rise gathering wildflowers with their ordeal still ahead of them. No other Australian photographer has successfully essayed a staged photo-tableaux version of this well-known narrative.
Three years later Polixeni Papapetrou developed an enigmatic animal mask series titled Between Worlds (2009-2012), which she has explained refers to the nature of late childhood – the cusp between innocent babyhood and the adult world. In The Harvesters, 2009 for example, the artist collapses Francoise Millet’s The Gleaners of 1857, with an image of three jolly and pampered little girl-pigs in pink. Despite the manicured pastoral landscape of the image, the viewer is faced with an antipodean reversal of Millet’s sombre drab peasant women. Is this a fantasy of ‘colonial somewhere’ where the poor can go and live In plenty? In The Sand Traveller, 2009 from the same series, a donkey-headed boy has collapsed in a Lake Mungo setting. The scene recalls narratives of doomed inland sea explorers, and the donkey headed poor weaver Nick Bottom, doomed to lose his love Titania in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
With a Greek background, Papapetrou strives to reach out in mute masquerades, to join old and new worlds and keep old tales alive.
Gael Newton, 2017
Polixeni Papapetrou is a photographic artist who explores the relationship between history, contemporary culture, identity and being. Her subject matter has included Elvis Presley fans, Marilyn Monroe impersonators, circus performers and body builders. Since 2002 Papapetrou has been exploring the cultural positioning of childhood. Creating fantastical worlds that feature her children, transformed with masks and costumes and set against both real and imagined backdrops, the characters in her images inhabit other times and places. By focusing on the theatricality and face of childhood, she explores an unconscious realm between the real and the imaginary, archetype and free play, child and adult and photography’s capacity to bridge truth and fiction.
Polixeni Papapetrou Papapetrou has been the recipient of numerous grants from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria. She is the recipient of the MAMA Art Foundation National Photography Prize (2016), Windsor Art Award (2015), the Josephine Ulrick and Win Shubert Photography Award (2009) and the Albury Regional Art Gallery National Photographic Award (2003). Her work has featured in over 50 solo exhibitions, and over 100 group exhibitions in Australia, the United States, Asia and Europe. Survey exhibitions were held at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2013) and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney (2011).
Polixeni Papapetrou has exhibited in major international photography festivals including ‘The European Month of Photography’, Berlin (2016); ‘Daegu Photo Biennale’, Korea (2016); ,’The European Month of Photography’, Athens (2016); ‘Dong Gang International Photo Festival’, Korea (2014); ‘Fotografica Bogota’, Colombia (2013); ‘Photofestival Noorderlicht’, The Netherlands (2012); ‘3rd Biennale Photoquai’, Le musée du quai Branly, Paris (2011); ‘The Month of Photography’, Bratislava (2010); Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, Shanxi, China (2010); ‘Athens Festival of Photography’, Athens (2010); Fotofreo, Fremantle Festival of Photography, Perth (2008); ‘Seoul International Photography Festival’, Seoul (2008); ‘Le Mois de la Photo’, Montreal (2005).
Polixeni Papapetrou’s work is held in private and institutional collections, including National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria; Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria; Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne; Fotomuseo, Bogotá, Colombia; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; Landstinget, Gävleborg Kulturutveckling, Sweden; Wesfarmers Art Collection, Perth; BHP Billiton, Melbourne and Artbank.