Aleksandra Bokova’s otherworldly animation celebrates femininity and tackles restrictive stereotypes
Based on personal experiences and conversations with other Eastern European women, The Caterpillar Girl tells a story about metamorphosis – from a cocoon of self doubt and trauma to a moment of self-acceptance and freedom.
- 15 February 2022
- Elfie Thomas
“I never doubted my choice to become an artist, but it isn’t an easy choice for someone living in Belarus”, Aleksandra Bokova tells It’s Nice That. “The unstable political situation, dictatorship, power of the older generation, and social judgement all block the way for young artists to be innovative, express themselves, and to be honest with their work.” So from a young age Aleksandra found solace in the realms of fantasy, cartoons, cinema and drawing. Her creative journey has now led her to work in Rotterdam, but when she was growing up she had to create her own ways of escaping the restrictive creative environment around her. She used her imagination to create “magical worlds where my friends and I are free, happy, where magic exists, and we possess fantastical powers”.
The Caterpillar Girl gives us a glimpse into this alternate reality. A meditative tinkling of bells accompanies us as we explore a twilight world where notions of time are abstracted . We follow Aleksandra’s semi-autobiographical figure as she navigates the bewildering trials of teenagehood, the endless hours of scrolling through social media and peering into the mirror as pimples appear as if by magic.
The film responds to the “toxic and oppressive ideas about femininity” which Aleksandra and her friends struggled with growing up in Belarus. Based on interviews and conversations she had with other Eastern-European women who emigrated from Belarus, she tackles the themes of “their self-acceptance and trauma, while finding many similarities between their stories and my own”. Aleksandra was not afraid to broach the concepts of “ugliness” and “trauma”, however the ending of the film is filled with hope and the promise of renewal. From a “cocoon” of “self-doubt, judgement, oppression”, the female character metamorphoses, following a trail of silvery butterflies to a transcendent moment of self acceptance.
Aleksandra made the film while she was studying in her final year at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Here she was finally able to let go of her “old academic training” from Belarus and begin creating the worlds which had once only existed in her imagination. On beginning her animation studies she was spoilt for choice. Before settling on 3D animation she experimented with 2D animation, illustration, game design, virtual reality and 3D scanning. “I was never that good with the technical aspect of 3D animation,” she admits, but this made her “more eager to find my own ways around it.”
Aleksandra always begins a project with character design. She thinks about them as if they were real people: “based on their mood, I proceed with arranging the environment, trying to think about what this character might love and enjoy, how they would decorate their environment, or what kind of places they generally like to be in.” In the future, she aims to continue exploring the theme of inclusivity and challenging stereotypes. We can’t wait to see what magical new realms she'll take us to next.
Aleksandra Bokova: The Caterpillar Girl (Copyright © Aleksandra Bokova, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.