Katya Muromtseva. To Sarah, 2023. A fragment of the work. Courtesy of Nika Project Space


Muromtseva’s Chronicles of Migrant Women Go on Display in Dubai

Moscow-born, New-York based artist is coming to terms with her own experience of forced migration by connecting with other women who have had similar experiences and they have become the subject of a new series of works which she is showing in Dubai.

Katya Muromtseva’s (b. 1990) current solo exhibition Over the Slopes of Speech at NIKA Project Space marks a new context and scale of expression. Muromtseva has built her practice around an exploration of documentary histories and abstracted, artistic expression. She is known for her ability to scale up the finicky medium of watercolour to encompass an entire wall, a technique which demands patience, precision, and an openness to the unpredictability of the medium. The Dubai show is the result of Muromtseva’s month-long residency in the Emirates, during which she interviewed women who have moved there to settle in the country. The resulting watercolours have titles which are dedications to each sitter, such as ‘To Maya’ or ‘To Sarah’. The exhibition is spread over two floors, the lower floor is dedicated to large-scale ‘murals’ and the upper floor to individual portraits.

The title of the exhibition, Over the Slopes of Speech, is drawn from a line in the poem No More and No Less by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. It tells the story of the many different roles societies impose on women, roles that are often fed by contradictory, impossible expectations, and is narrated from the perspective of one woman’s voice, who resolves to be herself, ‘no more, no less.’

The transcripts of the deeply personal interviews conducted by Muromtseva echo the sentiment of Darwish’s poem. The interviews are available as printed booklets for viewers to read at the exhibition, and the titles after each woman’s name serves to emphasize that each story is her story.

“This series was born from my own experience of being an immigrant,” said Muromtseva, who was born in Moscow. “I moved to the United States three years ago with a Fulbright Fellowship. When the war started, I understood that I could not go back. It was a kind of forced immigration, and I didn’t know how to process it. Since all my works are based on interviews and this is my way to connect with people and understand my world, I thought this project would be a way to process the experience of immigration that I did not choose.” For Muromtseva, completing this project meant extending her interviews and ‘Shadow Portraits’ series from friends and acquaintances to include women whom she met for the first time. She interviewed women from various backgrounds, painting their portraits while they spoke. “When you meet with people who have also all experienced a forced migration, you realize that you are not alone…whenever you leave something behind, you gain something too.”

If the texts document each woman’s experience of migration through words, however, the group of large-scale paintings, such as To Sarah or To Gulbana, capture the essence of unspoken communication. The use of fine lines, subtle shading, and colours that carefully bleed into one another give the figures and objects a delicate, ephemeral quality. They invite viewers to reflect on the non-verbal emotional and gestural, yet unspoken, connections that bind us to others and call forth our memories.

Another work, Shadow Conversations. Pearl, Act 1., depicts one woman as a mirror reflection of herself. The shadows differ in colour—one is brilliant lime green and blue, while the other a faded gray and violet—suggesting different versions or identities of the same person.

Muromtseva also uses colour to create a sense of movement and depth, as if the stories depicted are drifting through the air or seeping into the gallery space. The combination of abstract and figurative elements adds an enigmatic quality to each painting, encouraging viewers to wonder about the specifics of each woman’s story—but above all, to feel it.

Katya Muromtseva. Over the Slopes of Speech

Nika Project Space

Dubai, UAE

27 February – 4 May, 2024

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