Alter, photo series, 2022

Identity has always been the fundamental question, the piece of the puzzle one plays with most before adulthood. Self-discovery hopes to answer it, and often for the youth of the Balkans, this has to occur discreetly. 

Caught in the act, makeup smeared in a hurry, Alter sheds light on this secrecy and presents the artist as a hybrid, both third-gendered and genderless. It shows the subject’s ambivalence, the eyes full of shame and tired from hiding it. Through wigs, makeup, and clothing, Štefanek emphasizes the vital role an alter ego might have in one’s self-preservation, particularly within queer communities facing adversity in conservative and challenging environments.

Alter also makes a commentary on current affairs of the multifaceted and complex nature of gender in Eastern European societies. 

The nationalistic macho culture erupted in the 1990s, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the war, and the economic crash. Men who, due to years of enforced roles, were the ones who were navigating the new crisis, suddenly found themselves failing— failing at being the ‘stronger sex’, failing at being a breadwinner. To regain their ‘manliness’, they sought out the opposite and created a woman who is a hyperbole— she is a mother, a girlfriend, a wife, she wears makeup and nice dresses. These people would later raise my generation, so it is no surprise that most of them would grow up to value the same hypermasculinity or femininity. I’ve always felt I belong to neither or both simultaneously, using the tools of makeup and fashion to jump from one to the other.

Copyright © 2024 by Karlo Štefanek
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