Little Girl and Tom the Cat
Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art presents an exhibition by Andrey Prokhorov telling the poignant coming-of-age story of a little girl and her cat
A photographic idyll following in the steps of amateur home theatre
The iconic snapshot of a bespectacled cat that made it all the way to Times Square
More than 20 playfully mischievous black and white images
Photographer Andrey Prokhorov (also known as Andy Prokh) believes that some pictures take on a life of their own. For instance, the iconic image of Einstein sticking out his tongue or the pensive look of the revolutionary guerrilla leader Che Guevara are universally known. A similar kind of fame was also achieved by a certain cat wearing glasses. You can spot this image anywhere, from T-shirts and mugs to fridge magnets. On one particular instance the cat’s impassive face was even projected at the world’s most buzzing crossroads – on Times Square. Prior to this smashing popularity, the photographer was quietly documenting a cosy homespun story of a little girl and her cat. It is now high time to reveal it to the world.
The legendary shot was taken almost by accident. Prokhorov was working on a portrait series inspired by vinyl record sleeves. His initial idea was to portray a long-haired teenager in the guise of the grandfather of heavy metal and uncompromising bat eater Ozzy Osbourne (hence the original title of the work, Mind Games of Ozzy). But the only model at hand was a cat – not even a male one, but a she-cat called Lusha. The British Shorthair’s contemptuous face became the new symbol of cool: indeed, this portrait seems to epitomise the cool aloofness typical for film characters and pop culture icons. Prokhorov literally woke up famous. The first wave of feedback came from Internet forums; later the cat’s face became the logo of a major jazz festival in NYC and even was used in one of Prince’s final concert shows: flashing in Lusha’s sunglasses were the prisms and rainbows from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon cover. Thus the photographer managed to create an image that instantly evokes the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.
In Little Girl and Tom the Cat, Lusha acts in a rather different capacity. The entire series is a touching idyll following in the steps of amateur home theatre. For his take on the sentimental, even saccharine, subject of ‘the child and the cat,’ Prokhorov jettisoned colour and resorted to mischief. The character of Tom the cat has nothing in common with the mentor-like animal companions of the Disney Princesses. The very name Tom is an obvious pun on ‘tomcat,’ suggesting a mature animal of somewhat rowdy behaviour. This means that the series sees its human and feline protagonists going side by side through their formative years.
The child and the cat are both part of the family. They are not equal in age, but equally interested in learning about human culture, be it painting pictures, playing chess or observing the stars. Of course this is a fictional story. It falls short of the progressive ideas of animal ethics, according to which humans have no right to project their limited understanding of the world onto animals and pets must be liberated from the degrading and consumerist love of their keepers and start living in earnest. The age-old theme of man taming the animal presents the latter, usually a horse or a lion, as a primitive, uncontrollable natural force, akin to the human subconscious. Discipline, physical training, scholarship, and self-perfection are deemed to be the virtues aiding in overcoming this inner conflict. The Age of Enlightenment celebrated the triumph of reason with images of tamed lions grimly biting rings. However, it is much more amusing to follow the adventures of two friends whose path is fraught with errors, threats, and playful rivalry. The Little Girl and Tom the Cat series is almost like a Bildungsroman of our times: a coming-of-age story both for the snobbish cat and the child learning to see the beauty of the world.