Crowns and Gladiolas
Iwajla Kiinke
November 3 - November 26, 2011

"Jonathan, they call
a little blood
just a little blood to top off the honey"

The photographic portraits featured in “Crowns and Gladiola” take as their inspiration the Yona Wallach poem, “Jonathan,” in which the author imagines herself a young boy being slain by other children wielding gladiola as swords. Here, Iwajla Klinke’s fascination with human ritual – previously explored through portraits of young male subjects adorned in arcane religious cloths – is expanded to explore cultural practices situated even further from the center of mainstream Occidental discourse. Idylls from Wallach’s poem are interpreted almost literally in portraits of fencers; a series of models bearing bridal crowns evoke a not-so-distant time when girls of a similar age had their futures determined for them through arranged marriage; and ritual of a very different sort is evoked through Klinke’s depictions of young suburban Berliners obsessed with American football and boxing.

While the use of elaborate costumes and other totems traditionally affiliated with pageantry could easily come across as a camp or absurdist gesture, Iwajla Klinke’s subjects captivate us with their austere expressions. Unlike other photographers who take children as their main subject, Klinke is not attempting to formulate a definitive commentary on youth and innocence; rather, her work startles with its dignifying suggestion that children are as capable of seriousness and meditative contemplation as their adult forebears.

These recent images extend Klinke’s oeuvre to include a range of “contemporary magical knights,” which is how the artist thinks of many of her subjects. Taken together, these boxers, American football enthusiasts, and Orthodox princesses could be viewed as characters plucked from a modern day fairy tale.

Klinke never grasps for universality in her images; in fact, she is fascinated by the ways that humans grasp for universal meaning by entrenching their lives in the symbolic. It is a fascination we can’t help but share, communicated as it is through one of the most strikingly original voices to appear on the scene of photography for some time. –Travis Jepssen