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Sleeping Beauty recreated, unhinged, in Kiev museum

  • A visitor kisses one of the sleeping women during ‘Sleeping Beauties” in Kiev.

  • Canadian-Ukrainian artist Taras Polataiko looks on at one of the performers in his 'Sleeping Beauties' at The National Art Museum in Kiev Friday. AP Photo Efrem Lukatsky

  • A visitor looks at a woman sleeping on Friday during a performance at Ukraine's National Art Museum in Kiev. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY

KIEV, Ukraine: Looking for true love? Fall asleep in Ukraine’s top museum and wait for a kiss. A Ukrainian-Canadian artist is presenting an interactive art project called “Sleeping Beauty,” in which five attractive young women take turns sleeping under dim lights in Kiev’s top gallery, each under a pledge to marry the visitor who wakes her with a kiss.

Any unmarried museum-goer can kiss the woman in the hope of making Beauty fall in love and awaken.

Taras Polataiko, a Ukrainian-born artist now based in Canada, says the goal of his exhibit is to recreate the famous fairy tale and witness the birth of love.

It also has political undertones, symbolizing the patience of the Ukrainian people trapped by what he calls the oppressive government of President Viktor Yanukovych, and hopes that the nation will one day awaken to true freedom.

“I am turning the fairy tale into reality,” Polataiko sid. “The Prince fell in love with her deeply, strongly and this love woke her up. Strong love happens by chance.”

The nearly three-week exhibit ended Sunday, and so far only one Sleeping Beauty has woken up to a kiss – only to discover that her Prince Charming was actually a princess. It’s unclear what the two women will do now, given that Ukraine forbids same-sex marriage and that Princess Charming has a boyfriend of her own.

Romantic tension and anticipation were palpable in the ground floor room at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, where each Sleeping Beauty lay on a dais two hours a day. The project is more of an artistic experiment than an act of match-making. The marriage pledges that the visitors sign are not legally binding and some of the women admitted they would not get married to someone they disliked.

While the young women said they were looking for love, many admitted they were also just curious to experience the public attention and the thrill of the artistic experiment.

Liza, a public relations manager, didn’t dare open her eyes to any kisses, but later regretted it – discovering that one man was very attractive.

“It turns out that for a person who is used to being more rational, because most people perceive the world visually – it’s hard to trust your feelings and follow your impulses,” said Liza, 23.

Most of the visitors were gentle and respectful with the girls. But there were also unexpected moments, like when a U.S. man left Liza a brand new iPad, his email address and $400 to buy a ticket and visit him in Amsterdam where he currently lives.

There was also an awkward man from a provincial Ukrainian town, who knelt down before one Sleeping Beauty and wept because she didn’t wake up from his kiss. Polataiko teared up as well.

Other visitors, like 25-year-old designer Anna Prisiazhnyuk, who kissed a Sleeping Beauty Friday afternoon to no avail, were less serious about the project, saying they were looking for fun, not love. “No, I didn’t fall in love,” Prisiazhnyuk said, “I wanted to take part in interactive art.”

Polataiko, who is famous for provocative art work such as photographing himself hanging naked from a tree, emphasized the political message.

Ukraine was undergoing depressing times, he said, with the democratic achievements of the 2004 Orange Revolution now under threat as top opposition leaders suffer in jail on politically tainted charges. “People are experiencing apathy after the Orange Revolution ... Whatever these pigs in the government do, the people endure it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 10, 2012, on page 16.

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