Nothing but a Curtain

Zula Rabikowska

'Nothing but a Curtain' explores womanhood and gender in Central and Eastern Europe through photography and moving image. In the former “Eastern Bloc”, the end of communism led to the escalation of gender-specific segregation in the labour market, contributing to a ‘feminisation of poverty’ and economic divisions between men and women. To this day, growing up in Central and Eastern Europe means facing male-dominated political systems, sexist stereotypes, restrictive beauty standards, and religious expectations. In the summer of 2021, Zula travelled 4,552 miles (7325.80 km) across the former “Eastern Bloc”, to document how younger generations experience traces of an obsolete world order. Tracing the border known as the “Iron Curtain”, Zula photographed and interviewed 104 people about their personal experiences of gender and womanhood. Travelling only by public transport, I visited 20 cities across Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

Artist biography

Zula Rabikowska is a queer Polish visual artist based in London.
Zula was born in Poland, grew up in the UK and her practice is influenced by her experience of migration and in her work, she explores themes of migration, displacement, gender identity and LGBTQI+ communities.

Zula holds an MA in Documentary Photography from the London College of Communication. In her practice, Zula often works with multimedia, film and digital and analogue photography, and incorporates archival images and documents to challenge conventional visual story-telling norms.

Zula works as a freelance photographer and lecturer of photography at Kingston University.


Gallery Lock In
Little Western Street
Brighton & Hove

12–15 October

Wednesday 18:00–21:00
Thursday 13:00–19:00
Friday 13:00–19:00
Saturday 13:00–19:00
Sunday 12:00–15:00

Nothing but a Curtain
Zula Rabikowska

Being a lesbian in Bulgaria makes me want to leave the country. Every time I kiss someone, I have to look around first to see if it’s safe first.

My dad still refuses to refer to me as a woman.

I don’t want to be a traditional version of anything.

I always felt in between genders. I questioned if I wanted to continue being a woman. I lost friends when I came out as queer.

My mum always reminded me when I was a girl:
You have to take care of yourself, don’t speak too loudly, don’t run too fast, watch your weight, otherwise nobody will want you and you will never find a husband.

My family raised me so I wouldn’t stand out.

As women, we are still expected to have successful careers, look after children and cook for our husbands, whilst looking perfect. We are not allowed to fail.

My dream was to join the military. After I had my medical assessment the doctor's report stated I was psychologically unfit and advised me to start a family instead. I know it was really because of my tattoos.

I struggled with compulsory heterosexuality. When I am outside, I am perceived as a woman, when I am alone, I see myself as me.

Everyone has an opinion about everything in my life. My body, my career, my relationships.
Living with this lack of freedom makes me want to leave.

Nobody here wants to be from “Eastern Europe.”
It has too many bad connotations with the past that people don’t want to remember.

My colleagues on a work trip:
How are you not scared of driving to the forest with four guys, we could rape you and nobody would even know.

I feel best when I am non-gendered, then I can be free

Why haven’t you had children yet?
You are not so young anymore.

A selection of moving portraits and interviews with the project participants.