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Karolin Klüppel – KINGDOM OF GIRLS

Karolin Klüppel (*1985 in Kassel) can already look back at a body of creative work that enjoys a wide range of enthusiastic reviews and awards. This extraordinary resonance is due to the elegant alternation of her photographs between documentation and composition as well as her marked sense of impressive subjects. The pictures in the Kingdom of Girls series stand out not only due to their powerful and contemplative aesthetic, they also tell a story. The girls’ faces reveal the lifeworld and culture of the Khasi, an indigenous people in the Indian state of Meghalaya with a matrilineal social system: the youngest daughter is given preference in the order of succession. When she marries, her husband moves into her family’s home, the children receive the mother’s name. Only the birth of a daughter guarantees the continuity of the clan. Between 2013 and 2015, the photographer spent a total of ten months in the Khasi village of Mawlynnong, where she captured these magical images.

The Secret Room
Nadine Barth

Some will never enter the room. They will never see the treasures it houses. They will never see the golden light, the particular atmosphere, the secret actions. There is magic in this room and to comprehend it requires courage. Openness. And love.

Karolin Klüppel has entered this room. The room to a foreign world. Foreign to her, foreign to us. After ten months, she can invite us to follow her. Can give us photographs we would never have seen without her.
Photographs that won’t be easily forgotten:

Pictures like the one of the girl with a rust-brown chicken perching on her arm. Concentrating on what’s in front of her, the air, a thought, tomorrow. Like a still life, painted, stimulating contemplation.

Pictures like the cover image with bugs crawling across a face. Ibapyntngen has tilted her head back. Delicately. A lightness is at play, a connection with nature.

It was important for the photographer to have the same perspective as the girls. To be at eye level with them. She squatted, kneeled, sat in front of them. And always used the same focal distance.

Karolin Klüppel was patient. She engaged in unfamiliar customs. Until she understood them. She observed. She waited. Until the girls forgot she was there. Until she was like an object in this room.

Images of high density resulted. Images in which everything comes together: the gaze, the gesture, the light. They are rarely staged, usually they just took place. Sometimes the photographer would hand over a mirror or a comb. Then the girls would take over.

They are at one with themselves, with their environment, coalescing with their culture. That something special is attributed to them as girls in a matrilineal society is palpable. Their seriousness is palpable. Their devotion. Their fearlessness.

Sometimes the photographer showed them the photos. The girls were interested, briefly, then they would run off to the next game. It’s good that there will soon be a book to show them, the photographer has said. To return the gift.

In exhibitions it is clear just how closed the cycle is. A unity, concentrated, a series of small fine art prints, framed in walnut. Moving towards them, the foreign tableaus put you under a spell, pull you into the current’s undertow. But it isn’t necessary to be willing to make this step. To be willing to enter the room.

Karolin Klüppel talks about when the series was presented at the Chennai Photo Biennale. There, the photo’s subjects were put onto posters and exhibited outdoors. In a public park. That doesn’t really work, she says. Making the private so public. Intimacy so large. And yet, it was good that so many Indians were able to see the series. Those who tend to have reservations about coming into contact with their minorities. Who hardly know the Khasi exist. And the state of Meghalaya, up there, in Northeast India. Home of the clouds.

In one portrait, a branch with betel nuts serves as a headdress. Some of the shells gently touch a cheek. The girl’s name is Anisha. The yellow of the nuts is in correspondence with the yellow petals on her dress. Split into quarters, the nuts are rolled in a betel leaf and eaten with a little slaked lime. The result is a small high. It’s the first thing offered to visitors when visiting the Khasi, the photographer says.

The branch on Anisha’s head refers to the usage. To nature’s energy. An image that could be a representative for the world it moves in. Without being aware of it.

Karolin Klüppel has managed to tell entire stories with the photographs from the Kingdom of Girls. To open the room to the imagination. She has captured the dignity of the girls and understood them as people and not children. Femininity was allowed to develop freely, if it wanted it to. Childishness was allowed to remain, if it wanted it to. Just like in their lives.

May Karolin Klüppel find – and open – many further rooms for us.


Have a look at:


Texts by Nadine Barth, Andrea Jeska, Karolin Klüppel, ed. Karolin Klüppel
graphic design by Hannah Feldmeier
German, English


February 18, 2017