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Ukraine’s Sleeping Beauty gets international fame, but no prince yet

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Aug. 30, 2012, 10:19 p.m. | Museums — by Daryna Shevchenko

The second Sleeping Beauty called Liza is about to be kissed by a man who hopes she wakes up to marry him. An unusual art installation features five young ladies taking shifts to sleep at the National Art Museum.
© Ganna Bernyk

Daryna Shevchenko

Wanted: A prince to kiss Sleeping Beauty. 

Well, actually, any grown-up man will do as long as he is single and willing to marry the lady if she happens to wake up when their lips meet.

As a matter of fact, it turns out you don’t even need to be a man. All you need is to be an adult, pay Hr 20 and present a valid ID – which kind of kills the whole fairy tale romance.

But Canadian-Ukrainian artist Taras Polataiko clearly didn’t think so when he came up with the idea of re-enacting the fairy tale as a work of art. As a result, the Sleeping Beauty art installation opened in the Kyiv’s National Art Museum this month, and has already received some impressive international coverage for an art project in Ukraine.

From freaky blogs, to NBC news, to Forbes, to the Guardian, a beauty from Ukraine (once again) became an international star. But this time, it’s not just some actress or pageant winner, but a woman who will marry you if her eyelids open up to your kiss.

“This is not a joke,” says Polataiko. “Every candidate who comes in to kiss a Beauty has to sign an agreement that legally proves the serious intention to marry the woman he or she kisses if the Beauty opens her eyes.”

There are five of them to grab, taking three-day shifts during the 15-day project that ends on Sept. 9. They spend two hours each day sleeping in a cradle that was specially designed for them by the artist.

On a peaceful Wednesday afternoon, the second one was sleeping in a white dress, in a white room, with white light flooding the room, and seemingly undisturbed by lots of cameras and many visitors – though not quite as many as one would expect, considering the local and international media attention.

“I don’t understand why there aren’t so many people. Somewhere in France there would be a long line to come in,” says Polataiko. He fears that the project became more of an online virus than a real-life art exhibit. That is a shame, considering the tough screening process the beauties had to undergo to become the centerpiece of an art installation.

“I got over 100 applications with letters and photos,” says Polataiko. “And even though only some 20 or so came to the casting, it was still much more popular than I expected it to be.”

Polataiko adds that the selection criteria were strongly subjective. “I didn’t use those stupid modeling measurements or anything of the kind. I was looking for a beautiful, petite and smart lady,” the artist explains.

Originally, only one was supposed to remain. “But so many of them matched the criteria that I couldn’t help giving them a chance,” he says.

Natalya Bakovskaya, 27, was the first sleeping beauty to take a three-day shift to wait for her prince.
“I can’t say I was very excited about the project. My sister told me I should go. So, I did,” she says. “I was warned about the hygienic aspects of this, but I didn’t want to think about anything bad. I was in a fairytale.” 

The former Sleeping Beauty says sleeping for a couple of hours during the day was an easy thing to do, and she even started to miss her little siesta when her term ended.

She didn’t open her eyes and didn’t find her prince, but says one kiss was very remarkable and she gets little pangs of regrets about missing the chance. The beauty watched the videos of her kisses at the end of the project, and said she had different feelings about different men both while they were kissing, and while she watched the recordings.

“I am sure I can tell the true story of each or almost each kisser,” she says.

As Bakovskaya’s successor, Liza, who has to stay anonymous until the end of her shift as a Sleeping Beauty, is getting ready to fall asleep in a long white sleeping gown with her hair beautifully curled, her first prince of the day is already trotting about, with a big red rose trembling in his hand. He has been waiting since 7:30 a.m. The exhibition only opens at 2 p.m.

The beauties have days off on Mondays and Tuesdays. You can see the beauties between 4 and 5 p.m., and then between 5:30 and 6:30 on Fridays and Saturdays, and  the rest of the days – from 2:30-3:30, and then from 4 to 5 p.m.

“I don’t even dare to hope she will open her eyes and I will marry her,” says Oleksandr, who is too shy to give his last name and age. “I have had 200 years of misery and this is the only thing I can say about myself,” he says.

Prince Oleksandr came from a village in Chernihiv Oblast, and says he’s been unemployed and unhappy in love for a long time.

He walks in slowly and timidly and leaves the rose on the princess’s white bed. His kiss is fast and nervous, but deep disappointment flashes across his face when he realizes that the Sleeping Beauty stays asleep.

“It might be just a joke for the organizers and the others, but for me it’s not,” he says sadly. Tears appear in his eyes.

“This is not the first drama here, of course,” says Polataiko. “But it’s life.”

Taras Polataiko

The artist says his project will be a success, regardless of whether any of the beauties open their eyes or not. It appears to be true, as many people come in not to kiss the lady, but to see the performance.

Even those visitors who come to watch, have to sign an agreement that they will not touch the Sleeping Beauty, and will obey the rules of the exhibition.

“The idea is so cool,” says Kally Woldt from the USA. She just walked out from the exhibition hall, and decided to hang around to read the posters explaining the exhibition. 

“I wouldn’t want to take part in this myself. It scares me. But, I watched the guy kissing her and it is so exciting,” she says.

Another visitor, poet and artist Tetyana Kuznetsova thinks that although the idea of the exhibition is great, the execution is poor. “I think there should have been more decorations, flowers and a video series on the walls. It’s not very believable. It looks more like a deadlock than a fairytale,” she says.

The artist says Kuznetsova has a point as his beauties are an allegory of Ukraine, its suffering and its patience in waiting. “Our nation has endured everything for ages,” he says.

Those who are taking part in the project are fascinated by it

“I do believe you can meet your true love this way,” Bakovskaya, the first Sleeping Beauty, says. “Appearances can be deceptive. Feelings can’t.”

Kyiv Post staff writer Daryna Shevchenko can be reached at shevchenko@kyivpost.com

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