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Review:  Ariana Papademetropoulos; Baby Alone in Babylone

Ariana Papademetropoulos
Glass Slippers, 2022
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Photo by Argenis Apolinario; Courtesy the artist and Vito Schnabel Gallery

Ariana and I met a few months ago, when I went to visit her temporary Roman studio located in a narrow street in Trastevere. The studio faced the walls of the city’s prison Regina Coeli, and the entrance is only two doors away from the Istituto Sacri Cuori for missionary nuns in Trastevere. We spent some time talking about seclusion (the prefix se-, which means “apart”, implies a place or a condition that’s “closed away”), and what means artistically, and personally to her. I knew some of the new paintings she made while in Rome had to do with this feeling, but it wasn’t until I visited her studio, being in the immediate vicinity of these two architectures with such charged isolating connotations, that I realised the extent to which Ariana’s Roman location had to do with the poetics of her new exhibition Baby Alone in Babylone.

The institute and the prison are two of the most extreme forms of architectural enclosure one can find in a city and yet, are very much the opposite: in the case of the nuns, temporary seclusion is a choice, for the prisoners, an obligation. For this series of paintings, Ariana looked at what she described to me as “that feeling of wanting to be free and tamed at the same time”. Like the captive unicorn in The Hunt of the Unicorn — one of two tapestry series of the late Middle Ages at the origins of her research on the mythological creature’s iconography, (the other one being The Lady and the Unicorn) — Ariana’s fantastical animal, main character, and alter-ego within her new paintings, seeks freedom as well as domestication as it journeys through different transformations, ages, and emotions, to find its place (in the world?).