Little girls in pretty boxes

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes is a series of paintings that focuses on gymnasts from the 1970s and 80s; a time when Eastern Bloc countries dominated the sport and used it to showcase their political agenda. This was a golden age in the sport, a period when gymnastics became increasingly popular in the UK, mainly due to the impish superstars who won the hearts and minds of their audience.

Like film stars immortalised in celluloid, these romanticised images of young ‘super beings’ tap into a fantasy of perfection, capturing an essence of a time, which beyond the imagery has many different facets from the personal and nostalgic to the political. These young athletes remain encapsulated and unchanged, forever young and haunting in our memories.

However, behind the façade of rehearsed expressions and conditioned routines is the reality of rigorous hard work, lost childhood and the aching bodies of these young women; alongside the fear of injury and the pressure to remain pre-pubescent and child-like, for a somewhat fleeting moment of perfection.

These paintings highlight the ‘in between’ moments rather than the routines themselves, depicting the gymnasts nervously waiting in the sidelines, anticipating their score, the joy of celebrating the perfect performance, or the anguish and disappointment of their mistakes.