Based in the vibrant city of Tbilisi, Georgia, Mayya Kelova is a documentary and conceptual photographer whose work delves into themes of trauma, identity, and migration.
Mayya's work is a deep exploration of emotionally charged subjects, particularly trauma and personal experiences. When asked about her motivation for delving into such intense themes, she stated,
"I want to be honest with myself in my artwork, and right now it seems that the most honest thing to do is to look inward and address my own pain."
‘Forgiving’ is an ongoing series that explores the journey of overcoming trauma, as observed through the lens of photographer Mayya Kellova. It delves into the deeply personal experience of intimate partner violence, which left unprocessed trauma that later manifested as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), accompanied by feelings of guilt and self-blame. Intriguingly, one of the most formidable challenges observed in Maya's subject has been the quest for self-forgiveness. This project serves as a visual and emotional documentation of Mayya Kelova's own voice, capturing the moments when it was silenced and the ongoing process of its rediscovery.
How do you approach translating your own experiences and emotions into visual storytelling?
It is a difficult and slow process. It takes time to get to the point and project this experience into a visual medium. I work a lot with memory and in some cases, I am focusing on significant details based on those memories. This is especially true for “Forgiving”, whereas in “Something borrowed, something red” there is an element of reenactment.
Sometimes the concept defines the approach, which is the case with “Stories we did not tell, secrets we did not share”. For this I am using a film camera that captured my childhood and now serves as a time-travelling tool that bridges past and present.
Stories we did not tell, secrets we did not share is an ongoing project exploreing Mayya’s relationship with her sister who left home when she was 16. Now as adults, the two reconnect, bridging the gap that years of separation created.
Personal experiences can be both empowering and challenging to express How do you navigate the fine line between vulnerability and privacy when sharing your work with the world?
It is an ongoing conversation I have with myself. I appreciate art that is ambiguous and embodies the concept of “less is more” where you must read between the lines. I hope my art does the same.
Photography can be a therapeutic tool for both the artist and the subjects involved. How has your work impacted your own healing journey or those of the people you collaborate with?
It is a long process that requires time and patience, something that cannot be rushed, and to be honest something that cannot be predicted and expected. I am doing these projects because I need to work on them, and I am aware that I may never come to a resolution, or a healing. When I finished working on my project Forgiving, it took several months to feel that I am separate from the story.
How do you cope with the emotional toll that revisiting and portraying these experiences may take on you as an artist?
With my projects, I learned to take breaks when I feel it is hard to handle, to take care of my mental health, recharge and reflect. Sometimes these breaks can last several months, until I can be ready to go back and work again on the project. The process itself and the breaks are helpful for coping with the pain. But I also think it is very important for an artist who works with such challenging topics to have the emotional support of family, friends, and therapy. It can be very risky to do it alone, as there is a chance to retraumatize, and I am lucky to have such support.
I am currently exploring themes on sisterhood, migration, belonging and identity through my two projects “Stories we did not tell, secrets we did not share” and “Something borrowed, something red” (working title). The latter project also addresses topics of home, colonisation, and cultural appropriation.
I am working on the project “Stories we did not tell, secrets we did not share” with my sister. At first it was an attempt to get closer to my sister as we were separated for ten years from a very young age. But then the focus of the project shifted towards the exploration of our relationship.
I also see myself continuing working on documentary and conceptual projects.