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Rising Stars: Meet Elena Volkova of Hampden

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elena Volkova.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I grew up in Ukraine, and always knew I was an artist. In 1994, I immigrated to Baltimore, and it took a really long time to find my footing here in the US, my community; I never thought I was going to end up living in the city for so long. Immigration is often viewed merely as a “dream come true” story, and the heart-wrenching experience of losing one’s home, connections, bloodlines is often overlooked. You never recover from that.

In my early 20s, I had my daughter Katerina. Having a child really grounds you in a place. It often seemed like I have stayed in Baltimore for some temporary life circumstances, but the city grew on me and became a part of my life. I earned both of my art degrees at MICA, and started teaching almost immediately after undergrad and practicing art.

Currently, I live in Hampden, teach Photography at Stevenson University, and keep busy with art projects and caring for my 6-year-old son.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Balancing creativity with domestic life has been the greatest challenge for me. I think of my creative practice as an act of resistance to the societal expectations of me as a woman, caretaker, and breadwinner.

It is quite easy to fill my life with the joy of caring for my 6-year-old son, and I could probably be content just doing that. Claiming my space (physical and mental) requires tremendous efforts; I think many women struggle from that. Also, self-doubt.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am an artist and photographer, and my mediums are drawing digital photography and alternative photographic processes. I am a “project artist”; my work is driven by ideas and less by a medium. In the past two years, I have been working on community arts projects and taking portraits of people in various communities using a historic photographic process, wet plate collodion. Currently, I am working on a project titled, Anacostia Portraits, in collaboration with Anacostia Arts Center, and with a support of a grant from the Corcoran Women’s Committee.

The 2020 pandemic year was quite difficult on the creative front. Emotional suffering often results in interesting unexpected creating outputs, and mine was no exception. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started talking escapist walks and taking photos around my neighborhood, as well as focusing my lens on domestic details. The project resulted in a body of work titled, Meanwhile, and consist of semi-abstract images that invite into my subjective experience of the everyday. My dream is to publish a photo book with these images.

How do you define success?
Success is the ability to get satisfaction from one’s work. In my experience, success is defined by a day-by-day practice: if I am able to make work that makes me feel alive, I can mark the day as successful.

But also, having the privilege of time and space to struggle through creative ideas is a foundation for a potentially successful project. I do not define success by financial rewards; in general, most artists don’t. Being able to share work with others, a project that has been in progress or is finished – that is a success.

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