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The disturbing gaze of Nadia Lee Cohen

Nadia Lee Cohen with her work at La Térmica.
Nadia Lee Cohen with her work at La Térmica. / Félix Palacios
  • The young British artist is holding her first solo photographic exhibition at La Térmica

  • Women are featured in a universe of American beauty and double meanings where colour and glamour coexist alongside shopping, guns and burgers

On her Instagram account, nearly 250,000 followers see her as a daring, funny woman, who plays around with her image and displays it without taboos. Close up, though, Nadia Lee Cohen is a shy young woman of few words. She kept her sunglasses on during the presentation of her exhibition at La Térmica, and preferred to answer questions away from the microphone, whispering to someone who then translated what she had said for the press.

This contrast and duality also applies to her work. What appear to be happy, bright, colourful photographs hide a certain melancholy and veiled criticism of society. Neither the artist or her art conform to their first impressions.

The disturbing gaze of Nadia Lee Cohen

/ F. P.

Nadia Lee Cohen's first major solo exhibition can now be seen at La Térmica, which is committed to showcasing the talents of young names who are already attracting interest among private collections and museums. However, 'Not a retrospective', which continues until 12 May, will always be the exhibition which showed the way and she was enthusiastic about it. "It still seems strange to see all this here," she confided in an informal huddle after the press conference.

"Welcome to the universe of Nadia Lee Cohen!", curator Mario Martín Pareja said at the presentation. "Her photos are 100 per cent technique and another 100 per cent narrative". They are powerful scenes featuring "real women", not agency models, who in many cases display their naked bodies, with saturated colours, glamour and an apparent optimism which disappears at a closer viewing.

"There are always certain things that make them unusual or strange, and those remain with you," said Martín Pareja.

Nadia Lee Cohen avoids talking about messages. "What's important is that whoever looks at the photo feels something about it, good or bad. There is no defined message, I want people to be free to find their own" she says.Her work is open to multiple readings, which is partly explained by her background. A British photographer, filmmaker and self-portrait artist, she has lived in Los Angeles (USA) for years.

The disturbing gaze of Nadia Lee Cohen

/ F. P.

She is attracted by iconography and American culture, the contrast between the suburbs and conformist life in residential areas. Her camera portrays this hypocrisy of a society apparently perfect but with multiple internal cracks: dissatisfactions at home which are combated with sexual escapism, the 'Made in America' consumerism, the burdens imposed on women... for example, her portrait of a naked girl carrying bags of shopping, or another with a trolley outside a large shop with luminous signs in the background.

The 1950s style predominates, but she has no particular fondness for that period. She is a feminist, but features women because she has a "fascination for beauty".

She also features in her own creations, with self-portraits playing with identity, and transforms herself, including the use of prostheses, into a friendly elderly lady on her way to bingo, a nonconformist young Goth or a typical middle-class American woman.

They are her, but they're not. Like her photos, they appear to be something they aren't.