Lea Glob’s documentary Apolonia, Apolonia, about artist Apolonia Sokol, is a soul stirring feminist odyssey which pays homage to the women who fight to be seen and heard.
If you know little about the art world, you might not know who Apolonia Sokol is. If you know little about FEMEN and their ongoing protests, you might not know who Oskana Shachko was. Lea Glob’s documentary will tell you about these women, but it will tell you much more. It will tell you about living on the margins as a woman and a creator. The precarious nature of living, loving, birth, and death. Apolonia, Apolonia is a film for those who wander and are found, and those who become lost. It is about the witches you couldn’t burn, and the goddesses who roam the earth. The warriors. The women. Their battle cries and whispers.
Danish photographer Lea Glob first met Apolonia Sokol in Paris in 2009. She took photographs of her in cafes and bars. Glob says, “No motif has ever captured my eye,” in relation to how Apolonia became a roundelay for her work. She also says, “I was not in control. The motif was always moving,” about her thirteen-year journey following Apolonia as she struggled to stay afloat in cities all over the world and fought for her place as a painter.
The daughter of bohemian parents who owned an experimental theatre in Paris, Apolonia’s life has been documented from the moment of her conception (through a video her parents made) through to her birth. Long before Glob picked up her camera, Apolonia was alive through images. Amongst her countless struggles was the awareness that more people were interested in her itinerant life and her striking face than they were in what she was creating. Apolonia was a permanent daughter — the daughter of Alexandra, a mother whose family escaped persecution from Stalin. The daughter of a man, Herve, renowned for his support of artists, but also a man who left Alexandra and Apolonia when she was a child leaving them homeless.
Rebellion, artistic expression, and hand to mouth living are almost built into Apolonia’s DNA. So too fight or flight responses and the frustration of being silenced or diminished by men. She needs to consistently hustle to keep other people’s dreams alive while seeking out her own. Her peripatetic lifestyle takes her all over the globe. An opportunity seemingly too good to pass up in Los Angeles makes her a “factory” painter for a businessman, Stefan Simchowitz, whose interest in her lies in what she can do to improve his image and impress his wealthy clients.
Lea Glob’s story is not solely about Apolonia. She is the focus that pulls others into focus. It is also the story of Apolonia’s “soulmate,” Ukrainian activist Oskana Shachko. Shachko’s life has been shown in documentaries such as Kitty Green’s Ukraine is Not a Brothel. After being tortured by the Belarusian KGB, Oskana fled to Paris, quite literally a wounded bird, as her arms had been broken in just one of the heinous acts of torture inflicted on her. Apolonia took her in and in thus doing made her home a target for protesters who firebombed the theatre because FEMEN were holding meetings there.
Oskana was an artist, and like Apolonia, attended the prestigious Beaux Arts in Paris. Apolonia and Oskana walked the hallowed halls of an art school defined by luxury and privilege, situated on the rich side of the Seine. Just as Apolonia was graduating, Okasna was enrolling. Two young women whose voices had to glow white hot to be heard. Whenever Apolonia left Oskana she feared she would not see her again as Oskana was suffering from the effects of trauma and displacement. Apolonia’s more than sister became a skeleton, and then later, a corpse. All the love in the world dispensed by Apolonia, Alexandra, and Lea herself, could not save her from the predetermined erasure at the hands of violent men. Her death was a suicide, but she had been already murdered by patriarchy.
The final subject of Glob’s documentary is herself. Seemingly the most settled and safe person of the three, a complicated pregnancy and birth almost took her life. She sat with two women who decried motherhood as it was antithetical to art, and ironically, motherhood almost killed her. Glob does not make the statement that motherhood is a specific burden — rather she sees it as an experience that is part of a continuum for women. From Apolonia’s grandmother, to Alexandra, her mother, Apolonia comes from women who protected. Apolonia herself extended that protection to Oskana. Glob films herself in a mirror as she can barely hold up a camera any longer. Her tears are part of the river that flows between all of the women.
“I was pointing my camera at life itself,” says Glob as she reaches the end of her documentary. After thirteen years, Apolonia Sokol was finally recognised as a painter of note and prestige. Her work is considered some of the best in the contemporary art world — but she fought for every inch of space she was rarely given. She paints women as warriors, goddesses, clothed in beauty but also hidden behind masks. She paints herself and Oskana. She paints the experience of the outsiders, queer men and women. People of different nationalities and social classes. She paints the world.
Apolonia is told a painting is eternal. It’s a belief she holds onto through her journey. In painting Oskana, she made her eternal. In painting her grandmother and her family, she made them eternal. Lea Glob’s documentary is more than a portrait of an artist, it is a portrait of bravery and the necessity to see people for who they are, not just who they are expected to be. Apolonia, Oskana, and even Lea put their bodies on the line and fought in revolutions great and small.
Apolonia, Apolonia is not only about the power of art, but the power of women. Truth tellers, seekers, lovers, fighters, mothers, rebels, daughters, and sisters. In 1976 feminist scholar Laura Thatcher Ulrich coined the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history,” Glob’s documentary suggests that the very notion of well-behaved is a fallacy. Women make themselves and they are unmade, remade, and transformative. Just listen and look closely.
Apolonia, Apolonia will open in New York on January 12, at DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema.