Zula Rabikowska

Nothing but a Curtain

This is a documentary photography project which explores gender identity and the meaning of contemporary womanhood and femininity in areas once behind the Iron Curtain. Countries once behind the Iron Curtain are often reduced to the term “Eastern Bloc”, which lumps a diverse population into a homogenous and unrecognisable mass. During the summer of 2021, I traveled along the former Iron Curtain border to 250 different locations across Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. I interviewed and documented 104 different women, non-binary, genderfluid and transgender people who like myself, were born in or after 1989 after the Berlin Wall fell down, and when socialism in these countries came to an end. With this project, I want to challenge the way that Central and Eastern European women and non-binary people are presented and contribute to a discussion about borders and gender identity in the 21st Century. To include the divisive history between the “East” and the “West” I shot this work on a Kiev 80, a Soviet analogue camera made in 1978 in a Ukrainian military factory. The metal shutter of the camera creates a metaphorical “curtain” within the images, hinting at the way Soviet history has underpinned gender identity.

The project was funded by Getty Images, University of the Arts London, and Kuala Lumpur International Photo Awards.

About the Artist

Artist Website

Zula Rabikowska is a Polish photographer and videographer based between London and Kraków. Zula was born in Poland, grew up in the UK and her practice is influenced by her experience of migration and in her work, she explores themes of displacement, belonging and gender identity. Zula has always been interested in storytelling and she has obtained a BA in English Literature in French and an MRes in Postcolonial French literature from the University of Warwick.

Studying literature and stories of others has inspired Zula to turn the lens on herself. In 2019 Zula has obtained an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from London College of Communication, and since then she has been largely focusing on her own journey of migration and the meaning of home. In her practice, Zula often works with multimedia, film and digital and analogue photography, and incorporates archival images and documents to challenge conventional visual story-telling norms. Zula’s work has been exhibited and published internationally. She has won the AOP Emerging Talent Award and the PDN Edu Award in 2020, and is a recipient of the MEAD Fellowship Grant, which has enabled her to document contemporary gender identity in Eastern Europe.

Her work was selected by the OPEN20 Moving Image, shown at Winchester Gallery and Enjoy Museum of Art Beijing in China. Zula and was nominated for Budapest International Foto Awards, Moscow International Foto Award, Prix Levallois, BarTur Photo Award Leica Magazine Photojournalist of the Year.

Zula’s images have been featured by numerous publications such as the BBC, The Guardian, The Calvert Journal, The Culture Trip, Reckless Magazine, South West Collective, Photograd, She’s Got Wonder, Saigoneer, Café Babel, Stories from Poland, The First News, Coolura24, and Londynek.net. Zula also works as a freelance photographer in London and Kraków (Poland).

In May 2020 Zula co-founded the Red Zenith Collective, a platform for womxn and non-binary creatives from Central and Eastern Europe.