Saty Namvar and Pratha Samyrajah (aka Saty + Pratha) have launched their first solo show at the OnlyOneGallery in Toronto, where they currently live and work. The exhibition Currents and clichés – open until 12th May – features over 50 works produced by the artistic duo, including prints, videos and one installation. 
Saty + Pratha combine a glossy aesthetic with a lightly surreal perspective, creating sophisticated but still quizzical images. Their polished technique and the gleaming representation of beauty and femininity of their pictures is suggestive of an attempt to question the stereotypes of fashion and the average idea of femininity, exploring indeed the currents and clichés of the Western visual culture.

The self-taught duo has already collected some remarkable achievements, as their fashion editorials have been published in magazines like i-D, Elle, Esquire and METAL. As if this wasn’t enough for the emerging couple, The Centre Pompidou has exhibited their film works, while the Magenta Foundation, PDN and American Photo among many others have rewarded them for their work. A solo show seemed the only thing that was missing in this noteworthy curriculum.
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Currents and clichés is your first solo show. What does it mean for you from a professional point of view?
It means we have this wonderful blank slate where we get to push out a series of images that are ultimately meaningful ‘just’ to us. There’s a charming circus that comes with the traditional fashion work that we do; the kind where there are editors, stylists and art directors involved in bringing an idea into fruition. But in this particular endeavour many of those external voices aren’t there and we are really just answering to ourselves. While scary at times, it is quite liberating getting to concentrate solely on what amuses or interests us.
How have you organized your duo? I mean, do you have specific roles or do you work together on every aspects of the production?
We work together on everything! We typically shoot in a two-camera configuration and our edit and post-production follows the same workflow. There’s a very genuine one-upmanship to our process; we’re always trying to make an image that the other wishes she had got, but out of that healthy competition we ultimately end up with a body of work that is as good or as top tier as we can get.
What are, in your opinion, the most significant currents and clichés nowadays?
Not to get too ecclesiastical but really, there’s nothing new under the sun. For example, take selfie culture: in one way, it’s refreshing because women have the opportunity to present themselves to the world without there being a middleperson in the way, but it’s alarming how quickly everyone has adopted the same language by which to do it (high, flattering angles, or head turned with dainty feet positions, etc.). We recently re-watched Berger’s original Ways of Seeing BBC series and it’s mind blowing how much of the stuff he was talking in the early 70s is still totally relevant now.
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The exhibition on show at the OnlyOneGallery includes many of your pieces. Have you thought about them as a series?
There are actually fifty-one pieces up now, including an installation! Rather than being one series, they are presented in themes: references to fine art narratives, portraiture, a contrasting study on euphemisms for vagina versus a straightforward image of the real deal, etc. The key that unlocks it all is the installation, which is a physical space that houses a lot of reference points and things that have been kicking around in our brains. 
How long did it take you to develop such a consistent body of work?
We’ve been shooting the project consistently since 2015. Literally every time we have a gap in our commercial and editorial work we try to execute one of the concepts that we have on a never-ending heap of concepts we’re trying to cover for this project. We have to say that being able to show some of these images that have been sitting with us for such a long period of time has been very exciting and fulfilling.
Femininity, with all its mysteries and stereotypes, is the main subject of your pictures. How would you define it? Do you think that we still need a definition of femininity?
We feel there really isn’t an accurate definition anymore, and we aren’t sure there should be one. The traditional definitions involve themes like mystique and passivity, and also hysteria, but we think it’s pretty obvious now that these are personality characteristics that can apply to both males and females, especially now that male academics are not the sole definers of femininity. This illusiveness of femininity as a concept was our real main jumping point for this entire project. You can’t really break it down to a simple definition and that’s a good thing; that complexity is an inherent part of the term’s magic. Femininity as a whole is multifaceted, ethnocentric, complicated and an ambiguous concoction in all of our minds and you can no longer spell it out as simply as others have done in the past.
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As photographers and artists, do you want to reshape and question the notions of beauty and womanliness?
We certainly hope so! Our current generation has done a great job in rejecting the notion of ‘perfection’ that pervaded before us; we’ve rejected the over-photoshopifcation of imagery and the plasticization of the female body probably better than any group before, but there’s still more to be done and we wholly feel involved in that confrontation.
Do you think that those concepts and images of femininity relate only to the Western culture, or is it more universal?
Traditionally some themes – such as demureness or purity – are universal, but some others are not. For example, most female figures in European paintings are passive, whereas female nudity in traditional Indian or Japanese art is erotic and the female figures are equal participants. But there’s no denying that as Western hegemony spreads through the rest of the planet, more people are affected by its fallout. We would say that while the specific feminine conceits that we are examining in the project are predominantly Western, that does not mean they are only that. As globalization continues and borders and boundary lines become blurred, these cultural ideas will permeate more and more societies.
In the composition of your pictures it is possible to find the heritage of art history. However you have restyled it with a contemporary visual language. What is the function of this interrelation between past and present?
You can only really work with the time and place you find yourself in and we suppose that’s what we are working with here. While in many cases we are referencing images and the visual lineage of the past, we have ultimately tasked ourselves with the goal of producing something that is relevant now. Where that newness allows for a throwback to the old way of doing things, great; where not, we have had to come up with a remix that works for our generation’s tastes and aesthetic.
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Your pictures are always quite staged. There is such a careful attention to details that it cannot be simply an aesthetic choice. What stands behind it?
This attention to detail is probably a side-product of there being two of us. We each have things we want to bring to or achieve with an image, and we are careful that there isn’t any confusion on set. So we tend to hash out all the references and goals of an image prior to shooting it. Of course, once we are on set, there is a tonne of room for spontaneity, but we’ve found that having a clear idea of what we’re trying to achieve is freeing for both us and our subjects.
The atmospheres created in your pictures are pretty enigmatic: it is not clear why there is a woman laying naked in the grass or another one looking through the cards of an archive without wearing any clothes. How did these women end up in these situations?
We’re forcing a neoteric eye on the types of images the viewer may have seen before. By challenging the viewer with a calculated juxtaposition or a mash-up of motifs, we can arrive to an unexplored place. This all goes back to the idea of elusiveness and ambiguity in defining femininity and its meaning to each of us; there’ve been specific placeholders and patterns that are referenced in our images but the overall goal is to show something that feels familiar, and at the same time, new.
How do you want to engage with the viewers when you make a new photo? Are you trying to unsettle them?
Our (admittedly, rather lofty) goal is to make tableaux that are familiar enough to lure the viewer to engage but leave an aftertaste that makes them think deeper about what they are seeing.
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Your aesthetic is quite driven towards fashion photography, and you worked on many editorials for established magazines such as i-D or Elle. What does attract you of this specific branch of photography?
The short-short answer to this is that we really love clothes. Never mind the design and aesthetics within this realm, we really adore it from an anthropological and sociological point of view. All the identity and tribalism facets that go along with fashion are enough to keep our interest for ages to come and that’s really the main reason why our work has had such a strong attachment to this area of photography.
Could you give us some sneak peek into your future projects? Are you currently working on something new?
We’re currently working on a number of personal projects in conjunction with some key editorial outlets but, to be honest, this project is still continuing until we are ready to put it out as a book. There are still quite a few concepts – whether directly linked to classical works or just looser ideas – that we are trying to bag in our final roundup and we are concentrating on those for at least the next year.
Currents and clichés, until 12th May at at OnlyOneGallery, 5 Brock Avenue, Toronto.
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