Marge Monko

© 2020

Vinyl adhesive 4110 x 2220 mm; 2 pigment photos mounted on dibond, 700 x 850 mm
Commissioned for the collection exhibition Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945 in Kumu Art Museum

The work comments on the predominance of blonde and blue-eyed women in the visual culture of the 1930s in Estonia. On the one hand, this tradition goes back to the drawings of fair-haired Estonians by 19th-century artists and ethnographers, on the other hand, the tastes and preferences of the time were swayed by Hollywood with its platinum blonde actresses, especially Jean Harlow, who often featured in local newspapers.
Fair-haired and blue-eyed girls in traditional dress are portrayed in several of Ants Laikmaa’s pastels of the 1930s. In a way, these pictures bear a resemblance to the style common in the German art of the period, idealising rural lifestyle and racial purity.
The central feature of the work is a double portrait of a young woman that is exhibited next to Ants Laikmaa’s pastel from 1940. The photos depict the woman both in profile as well as in the three-quarter profile, using a format, which is inspired by 19th-century anthropological portraits and the „Shirley“ card used in photo labs to calibrate skin tones during the printing process. Until the 1980s, films were calibrated against photos of light-skinned models, so that with darker skin colours, it was difficult to get the tone right. The added graphic elements – colour charts used in photography and beauty salons, a Munsell soil colour chart and hair dyeing instructions – highlight the important role that colour and calibrating systems play in the visual representation of people and, consequently, in shaping identities.