European Prospects
Exploring European Identity through Photography

Maria Kapajeva

Maria Kapajeva

Maria Kapajeva


Maria is a Russian artist from Estonia based in London who left her career in Economics behind and moved to the UK to get her BA and then MA in Photography at University of Westminster. She got the British Council PMI2 Award twice to produce new work in India. The Photographers’ Gallery for The World in London commissioned her in 2012 and she was shortlisted for The Title Art Prize in 2013. Her work has been exhibited internationally including Belfast, FORMAT, Guernsey and Chobi Mela VIII photo festivals and the recent shows at Harn Art Museum (Gainesville, USA) and at Kaunas Photography Gallery (Lithuania).

Together with her practice, Maria teaches at University for the Creative Arts at Farnham and became part of a research project there on women in photography (@womeninphoto), which culminates in a conference at Tate Modern in 2015.

In her work Maria focuses on the issues of women representation in contemporary society and cultural and social stereotypes around that representation. In her practice she expands the borders of photography working also with found images, video and textile crafts.

Portfolio The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

"But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too". (from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, 1916)

I grew up in a culture where women were declared equal to men. This, however, applied to their jobs not to domestic duties, which remained exclusively the obligation of women. They hardly ever got to the top management positions but instead aimed to get happily married and dedicate themselves to the families. When photography came into my life, I began to realize that the myriad of possibilities and perspectives that it afforded were much more interesting than any dream of ‘marrying a prince’. With my move to the UK, I was lucky to meet women who shared my thoughts, were passionate about their careers, and wanted a freedom of choice in what they would aim in their lives. Most of these women have moved to a new country, as I have, not to get married, but to realize their own potential in whatever they do: write, draw, paint, photograph or invent. Working in collaboration with them, I try to find the ways to photograph each of them as a unique and strong personality in her own working environment. These women are my peers and represent a new generation of impassioned young intellectuals who are not afraid to undertake risks and break the rules.  

Portfolio I Am Usual Woman

Quilt is stitched with a pattern called Double Wedding Rings. The pattern was traditionally used for a trousseau quilt made by bride’s female relatives. The used photographs were found on the matrimonial websites specially created for Russian women to find a Western husband. The images for the quilt are carefully selected from the ones which were shown on these websites as ‘the best samples’ of how women should be photographed for the best matchmaking. This work is continuation of my artistic investigation on women’s role in cross-cultural marriage and fantasies the Russian women as well as Western men have about the women's’ role in it. I am interested to question the relevance of traditions and old values nowadays taking into consideration the new opportunities the globalization can offer.

Quilt 170x170cm, unique piece

Portfolio Interiors

The series is a selection of vernacular photographs which were found on the Internet and digitally manipulated afterwards. The final collages demonstrate a collision of two cultures: Russian women in their domestic interiors in the poses they borrow from Western mass media as an exemplification of female sexuality. The series looks at assimilation and possible integration of cultures of post-Soviet territories with the Western values and how these processes reflect in women’s role in the society. The series contains of 20 images.



2014 Traces - Contemporary Baltic Photography – Budapest Centre of Architecture, Hungary
2014 Celebrating Europe – Kaunas Photography Gallery, Lithuania
2014 he, she, me - Samuel Harn Museum, Gainsville USA (Commissioned by GTKE)
2013 The Title Art Prize – Blank Media Collective, Manchester, UK
2012 The World in London – The Photographers’ Gallery, London, UK (Commission)

Additional information: 

To read an article about Maria Kapajeva by Sharon Boothroyd click here.