The photographic work Blonde (2021), by Marge Monko, has its origin from a commission made for the group exhibition Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945, which took place at the Kumu Art Museum in 2022. The focus of the exhibition was to establish the role of art within society and how it can influence the construction of the identity of the individual and of a community. Marge Monko, presenting this diptych, offers a reflection on the canonized depiction of women in Estonian culture by proposing a subtle but pointed critique of the visual canons that have characterized Estonian culture and which still influence the traditional depiction of women.

Presenting a rigorous photographic work in which the images demonstrate great attention to the rendering of detail and to the shooting phase as much as that of the print, Monko creates a diptych in which the same subject is depicted: a young, blonde and blue-eyed woman. The two diptychs show two different shooting angles: in the first image the girl is presented in profile, in the second with an angle of 45 degrees. This decision to pose the model in two canonical positions of photographic portraiture also creates a direct reference to the photographic representation used at the end of the 19th century for ethnographic and scientific purposes: on the borderline between the prisoner and the animal under a magnifying glass, the person is deprived of her identity and presented as a plastic and apathetic subject. To this first meaning Monko adds some clues from which a series of stereotypes were created originated: in the first image the young woman holds the palette for hair coloring in her hands, in this case all oriented towards blonde tones. In the second image she is posing against the classic Kodak color chart used in the printing phase to make the most of the skin coloring but perfected only on the skin coloring of fair-skinned individuals. These two clues denote how tastes or trends centered on a stereotype or a more shared model are reported culturally.

By bringing these references together, the artist tries to define the ethnographic stereotipe leading inside Estonian culture in which, both from a pictorial and mass media point of view, female standard was shaped with blonde hair and light blue eyes. Blonde is an extremely elegant and elaborate provocation in which the artist also manages to include a reflection on the photographic technique and the shooting itself by presenting images in which the different techniques for constructing identity and standards of beauty are showcased. The static nature of the subject and of the tools that surround it suggest the closure of a stereotype as well as its criticality in establishing itself within a social context: the single characteristics that are in force in the production and diffusion of the images go on to shape the stereotype by modifying the interaction between individuals and communities. Marge Monko offers an invitation to rethink the images that prevail in the visual culture of the present and thus discover their origins.

Marge Monko
Blonde, 2021
Vinyl adhesive 411 x 222 mm; Pigment photo mounted on dibond, 700 x 850 mm
Commissioned for the collection exhibition Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945 in Kumu Art Museum. Curated by Kadi Polli and Linda Kaljundi


Marge Monko, Blonde, 2022, installation view , Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945 in Kumu Art Museum

Marge Monko, Blonde, 2022, installation view , Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945 in Kumu Art Museum