Michał Siarek: New East Photo Prize 2016

Calvert 22 Foundation announced Michał Siarek as the winner of the 2016 New East Photo Prize. As a project developed by the foundation and The Calvert Journal, the inaugural award champions contemporary perspectives of the people and countries of the New East, including the Balkans, Russia, central Asia and eastern Europe.

Siarek was selected by the organisation’s panel of judges, consisting of celebrated photographer Donald Weber, the Creative Director of the foundation Ekow Eshun, Roger Tooth, who is head of photography at the Guardian and the Observer and leading curator Kate Bush, amongst others.  The winner was chosen from 11 shortlisted practitioners, containing the work of professional and non-professional photographers alike who offered representations of the social, cultural and physical landscapes of the region. The countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are often portrayed in an outdated manner, which undermines the rich culture, variety of creative output and hugely diverse nature of these nations. The Prize, and the artists selected, seek to broaden perceptions of the New East.

With roots in documentary photography, Siarek spent three years on Alexander, his debut essay focusing on myths, identity and nationalism in Macedonia. The piece examines the relationship between the poorly developed post-Yugoslav country and one of the most recognised and significant rulers in history. Focusing on Macedonia’s decision to rebuild Skopje after a connection with Alexander the Great was discovered, the artist explores the contrast between a desire to preserve history and modern progression. From this, Siarek sought to depict the absurdity of a debate over ancient identity which directly clashed with the modern struggles of nationality, an issue caused by the collapse of Yugoslavia. The series depicts the incongruity of Skopje’s landscape, contrasting with its new monumental decorations, and the reactions and emotions of the community. The artist states: “The society is divided on many levels and the whole topic of ancient legacy is just the tip of the iceberg, a sum of more urgent issues”.

Ekow Eshun, from Calvert 22, describes Alexander as: “a compelling exploration of history, memory and national identity as rendered by a richly talented young photographer with an acute eye for detail”.

An exhibition of work from the shortlisted artists is on display at Calvert 22 Foundation, London, until 18 December. For more information: www.calvert22.org

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1. Michał Siarek, Alexander. (Courtesy of the Calvert 22 Foundation).