‘Little Russia’ is an intimate photographic series by Sonya Mantere that takes a close look at the lives of her relatives from Russia. And the decor, patterns, and textures that they transported with them when building a home in a new place.
Sonya Mantere works with photography and video installation, focusing primarily on human relationships, their stories, and the body. Often taking close relatives as her subject, Mantere’s images capture a delicate moment of exchange — a moment of mutual trust and openness.
In ‘Little Russia’, Mantere wanted to look at the aesthetics of home that her relatives carried with them and even identify with. “I find it intriguing how specific decor can be found in several homes, whether living in Russia or not”, the artist explains.
They who have to leave their homes/
Will build a new one/
And it will remind them/
Of the old one/
What can you take with you/
To represent /
who you are externally/
So it communicates/
who you are internally?/
Poem by Sonya Mantere
“I find myself fascinated by details, so I gravitate towards patterns and textures in my work.”
More than a backdrop, textiles and fabrics play a prominent role in the ‘Little Russia’ series. For Mantere, these elements speak to the history and experience of the protagonists. As the artist points out, rugs had often been used to cover the interior walls of houses in order to keep the heat in. The functionality of these wall hangings eventually translated into a form of decor, which was adopted by many in the Eastern Bloc.
As part of the visual culture — tied to the home, specifically, and perhaps to familiarity and comfort by extension — there are still many in the older generations that use rugs in this way.
Mantere elaborates on this aesthetic in the context of Russian culture: “I feel the combination of floral patterns and rugs communicate the organized chaos.”
Very much at the center of the highly textured environments in ‘Little Russia’ are the human protagonists. Mantere is drawn to working with the human figure — physically and emotionally. And the close connection she shares with her subjects allows her to dive deeper, not only opening up their relationship to each other, but also the creative possibilities in her work.
“Observing my relatives and including them in my work brings another layer of intimacy and therefore also discomfort.”