Sleeping Beauty in Ukraine: Why five women signed contracts to marry strangers

Young girls are enchanted by the fairytale image of true love’s kiss.  But few would consider a Disney fairytale to be a real life possibility.  Taras Polataiko, a politically and socially concerned artist working in Canada and the Ukraine, is one of these few.  At the National Art Museum of Ukraine in Kiev, Polataiko decided to put the beloved tale of Sleeping Beauty to the test.

Polataiko’s project required five Ukrainian women to pretend they were sleeping on an elegant bed in the gallery in two-hour shifts.  As they were sleeping, potential suitors (after their marital status was confirmed to be single and they were declared free of oral diseases) were to kiss the women, each hoping to wake the sleeping beauty.  

Behind the scenes, however, there was more riding on these sometimes serious, sometimes curious, and sometimes playful kisses.  Polataiko required that all five women sign a contract committing them to marry the person who awoke them with a kiss.  The potential suitors were required to sign an identical contract.  Sound strange?

Polataiko wasn’t trying to make people laugh or evoke nostalgia for our Disney days.  He was conducting a social experiment to make a statement.

The controversy of the project, however, was the result of one of the sleeping beauties who opened her eyes not to a male suitor, but a female suitor.  Contractually obligated or not, Ukraine does not allow same-sex marriage, one of several oppressions highlighted by the Sleeping Beauty project.  So even if they had wanted to obey the contractual obligations of the experiment, the two women would not have been able to do so in their home country.

On the surface, the five sleeping beauties were, for Polataiko, representative of the patient Ukrainian people who are currently enduring an oppressive Ukrainian government.  He alludes that one day, pure chance may find them opening their eyes to a suitor—or alternatively, a better Ukrainian government—who they will have to follow and trust with blind faith.  Until then, they will wait, patiently, even apathetically.

Polataiko’s sleeping beauty exhibit was taken very seriously by some, and less so by others.  But whether a suitor truly hoped for his sleeping beauty to wake up or whether he simply wanted a funny story to tell his buddies about the time he kissed a pretty girl on exhibit in a Kiev museum, the project’s political and social undertones are a serious matter.

Polataiko used art to demonstrate that Ukrainians are oppressed and denied human rights in their own country, and the Ukrainian people are done accepting these denials of human freedoms.