Katya Grokhovsky: The Artist That Presents The Grotesque And Absurd Realities Of Immigrant Women

Art Katya Grokhovsky: The Artist That Presents The Grotesque And Absurd Realities Of Immigrant Women

"My body, of a woman and an immigrant, contains a lot of memories and experiences which shape my work."

You may have heard of the hunger strike currently happening at Yarl’s Wood, a British immigration detention center where the detainees are mainly female. Or perhaps you haven’t. I came across the first mention of it by chance. It’s big news that just isn’t making the rounds of our social media. Women tend to be left behind in the immigration debate. They’re seen as criminals, bad mothers, and a plethora of other adjectives. Immigration tends to be seen as a male activity where women are just brought along. We don’t like to think about what it’s like to be a woman in the process of getting refugee status or searching for a better life. That would mean coming to terms with the vulnerability they face, not just in terms of uncertainty, but also in how they’re at risk for sexual assault and harassment, possible unsanitary childbirth conditions, FGM, as well as the possibility that this new country will do everything in its power to send them somewhere else.

Katya Grokhovsky is a New York-based artist who’s had her fair share of experiences discovering new homes. Though she was born in Ukraine, she grew up in Australia. Her work deals with the social construction of womanhood and femininity within the context of immigration. Cultura Colectiva had a chance to speak with the artist about her work, as well as the cognitive dissonance that happens all too often when it comes to talking with marginalized communities, and specifically women.


Katya Grokhovsky, Utopia 16000, 2015, photo: Natasha Frisch


Katya Grokhovsky, Immigrant Ball, 2018, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

“As an immigrant woman, I often deal with misunderstanding and crude cultural and personal assumptions. You are somehow supposed to be exotic, other, wild, subservient, obedient, domesticated, etc. The stereotypes never end, and they definitely shaped my rebellion and desire to protest and educate through my work and life.”


Katya Grokhovsky, Immigrant Ball, 2018, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk


Katya Grokhovsky, Temporary Habitat, 2017

To say that Grokhovsky does performance art seems limited. While her work is indeed theatrical, she takes on a host of characters and costumes to portray the uncomfortable side of womanhood we choose to ignore, and it’s also thought provoking and confrontative. Her work forces the audience to face their prejudices and indifference to people who are often in our vicinity yet we choose to forget or ignore.

“A lot of my work stems from my own autobiographical life experience and journey, as well as observation, research and experimentation. My body, of a woman and an immigrant, contains a lot of memories and experiences which shape my work. I like to dig into my family archives and stories and my own childhood and girlhood for inspiration to create and construct characters, which explore the concept of gender and womanhood in the contemporary society, underscoring the study of stereotypes, assumptions, oppression, prejudices, and injustice, both culturally and historically.”


Katya Grokhovsky, Immigrant Ball, 2018, photo: Walter Wlodarczyk

Grokhovsky uses her body as a canvas. As she inhabits different characters and situations, she shows us an x-ray of her artistic process. As viewers, we are with her as she processes and experiences the different realities and perceptions that the public has towards women and immigrants. 

“For me the body is a tool, a vessel and a vehicle through which I explore and experiment with ideas, both through my own, others as well such as inanimate bodies like mannequins. My interest in the body comes from my early training in dance and fashion design, disciplines that revolve around the body’s movement, presentation and ultimate brutality of exclusion due to non-compliance to perceived society’s standard.”

Bad Woman, 2017, 13 mins


Katya Grokhovsky, System Failure- Caretaker, 2018, video still.

Her work is often described as grotesque. What surprises me about this description is the fact that when a female body is referred to as grotesque it’s because it’s not being sexualized or it displays un-ladylike traits. When society encounters a woman that does not fit the stereotype or expected characteristics of beauty, she is deemed as being something else.

“Specifically I am interested in bodies considered bad, which have been seen as undesirables, misfits, failures, often invisible, omitted from the accepted cultural narrative. Bodies are examined, policed, colonized, criticized, politicized and fetishized. My own body is also frequently the only tool available to me as an artist and an immigrant.”

Bad Bunny, 2017, 3 mins

We asked the artist about the place that femininity has within her work. The idea that a woman is a sculptured creation is a way to ensure that certain members of the population are molded into a role that controls and oppresses them.

“My work toys with the idea of gender construct overall, both femininity and masculinity, as absurd notions, which are imposed on us from birth. Femininity specifically, is defined through image and objectification, passivity and submissiveness and I am interested in not only protesting this hypothesis, but amassing a new idea of what girlhood and womanhood means in the 21st century, be it through performance, sculpture, painting or video. We definitely need to rewrite society; as patriarchy is failing us all.”


Katya Grokhovsky, Bad Bad Woman, 2017, video still.

We ended the interview by asking Katya which stories she’s most interested in telling. In our current landscape it seems that those in control of the narratives are the ones who intend to perpetuate outdated notions of what it means to be a human on this planet. Technology and language has erased borders. Despite many who are dead-set on creating Babel structures to keep people apart, it is through storytelling that these voices will be heard or acknowledged.

“I am interested in anything that is not mainstream, such as immigrants and women’s stories and legacies, the disappeared, the ignored, forgotten, abused and discarded. Stories we try to forget or ignore, historically and culturally.”

You can check out more of Katya Grokhovsky's work on her website and Instagram.

March is the month to share stories and raise awareness of issues concerning girls and women all over the world. You can find out more about the different initiatives happening here.