Natalka Husar at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (7 Hart House Circle) to May 16. 416-978-8398. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
it's hard enough to be a teen-age girl in North America. But what if you just flew in from the post-Soviet Ukraine? Think Babushka meets Barbie and you've got Blond With Dark Roots, Natalka Husar's provocative show at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.A group of 17 oil portraits tells Husar's story of child-women coming into their sexual identities while simultaneously trying to deal with the shock of in-your-face capitalism.
In Playing With Fire, a girl holds a wrap over her naked torso with one hand, the nipple of one flat breast just barely visible over top. Looking coyly at us, she sucks on the middle finger of her other hand.
Husar ratchets this unsettling mix of innocence and seduction up a notch in large tableaux of the girls' fantasy worlds. Half-naked and draped in furs, they're surrounded by a swirling mass of East and West -- rich draperies and oriental carpets collide with platform boots and cellphones. Buried in this cultural chaos are tiny scenes of youthful, idealized romantic bliss: a young man helping a woman with her golf swing or a mom and dad at home with their two kids.
Of course, reality's never so sweet. Husar closes the show with her Library series, scenes of unhappy love affairs painted onto the covers of pulp romance novels. But the final cover, titled Turn The Page, shows a young woman laughing uproariously. You know she's survived adolescence, yet stayed true to her roots.