August 07, 2022

Life Impacts Art


Life Impacts Art
An etching purchased at Moscow's Ismailovsky Bazaar.

Names have been changed and specific artistic endeavors excluded to protect the artists who contributed to this article.

“It’s like a set, like some kind of theater set. That is, everything seems to be the same, but in reality, it’s not. It’s as if everything is a little fake.”

Sasha, an artist who fled the country after Russia began bombing Ukraine, was reflecting on impressions from her recent return to Moscow.

Her conviction that the war is both hideous and unjustified, coupled with her decision to begin anew in another country, initially provoked both depression and panic attacks.

“I will say that, for the first several weeks [of the war], I had a very strong feeling inside that some social norms had shifted… and I no longer had the feeling that Moscow is a safe city," she explained via a Signal voice call. "I felt that violence could happen suddenly and without a reason. But now that feeling has faded.”

war
A scene from the controversial Moscow installation "Children are the Victims of Adult Vices" by the Russian artist Mihail Chemiakin. On the right, War is depicted; on the left, Poverty.

While Sasha now feels she has adapted psychologically, and is not taking antidepressants – a temporary remedy, she said, that is quite popular amongst artists, activists, and others who protest the war and yet decided to stay in Russia – she continues to struggle with the dissonance of a peaceful life in Moscow, compared to the carnage in Ukraine.

“The first three days of my return were very hard for me, I didn’t understand why people don’t just walk down the street shouting,” she said. “Well, I just wanted to walk down the street and scream, because cars are driving, shops are open, people go to the hairdresser, everything is in order there.”

Sasha said she believes it would have been much more difficult had she decided to stay.

“At the moment, I do not have exhibitions, I have not made any active public statements…That is, I just sit and do the things that I see fit, and, in general, no one bothers me.”

Like Sasha, Alyona struggles with the knowledge of the war.  She also worries about the actions she has taken against the violence in Ukraine.

“My main difficulty is the constant expectation that they might come for me,” Alyona wrote over Telegram.

“I know that I have done and said in public enough to be held accountable. And I also know that sometimes you don’t even need to do anything, and there are police who will plant evidence, and there are courts that will do it, as it IS NECESSARY.”

Alyona said she feels that she has been spared so far because she is just one of many. “I live in St. Petersburg, and I simply don’t stand out among other protesters, of whom there are quite a lot here in general… While there is no sense that anyone can now safely speak out against the war, at the same time, I see that many seem to have thawed out, and even just on social networks, more people are talking directly about the war crimes of the army.”

Despite what Alyona perceives to be an increase in online anti-war discourse, both she and Sasha share a feeling of being outcast and unusual.

dialogue
"Dialogue about Life" - an etching purchased at Moscow's Ismailovsky Bazaar.

Sasha said she struggles to accept that Russia has closed the door on some of its most passionate citizens.

“It is hard to see and bitter to see how a group of people usurped power by criminal means and informed all of society that we, as it were, the most educated part of it, the most active, should leave because we don't belong here, because we don't agree [with them] – just like that,” Sasha said. “And we are actually told that trash in plain text. ‘Don’t interfere, and if you do not leave, well, we will put you in jail.'”

Alyona said she feels the contrast when confronting those who are more neutral toward the war.

“Many with whom I spoke, especially the older generation, declare that what is happening in our country is normal, the fact that everything has been and will be, and this scares me the most. I think that this is not acceptance, but apathy – just the fatigue of people who have been under the pressure of the regime all their lives; they have begun to forget general humanitarian guidelines.”

Both women, however, have found ways to cope with the heaviness of Russia’s responsibility through their work, spurred by various motivations.

“It doesn't sound like much,” Alyona said, “but fear motivates me. I feel that there is a lot of it, that this fear subjugates everyone, and that it is imposed from the outside. I want to confront it so as not to lose my dignity, so as not to lose myself.”

Sasha laughs at the inevitable passing of hours. “I understand that I am still a young woman,” she said, “so I'm going to live a long time. And I'm going to outlive Mr. Putin and his henchmen and associates.”

spletenie
"Tangle" - an etching purchased at Moscow's Izmailovsky Bazaar.

 

You Might Also Like

Patching the Holes

Patching the Holes

Russian lawmakers have been vigorously adding new laws in response to political and cultural developments and public protests, rather than due to pressure from the public or practical necessity.
With Mouths Sewn Shut
  • July 15, 2022

With Mouths Sewn Shut

Art is a powerful realm for protest. The Ukraine War has inspired a new wave of brave works.
Artistic Apoliticality
  • July 25, 2022

Artistic Apoliticality

Russian event promoters have begun requiring artists to promise that they won't include political statements in their performances.
A Failure to Perform
  • July 07, 2022

A Failure to Perform

The International Platonov Arts Festival in Voronezh, has been canceled due to current political conditions.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Tolstoy Bilingual

Tolstoy Bilingual

This compact, yet surprisingly broad look at the life and work of Tolstoy spans from one of his earliest stories to one of his last, looking at works that made him famous and others that made him notorious. 
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Russian Rules

Russian Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955