The talent setting Russia’s art credentials on fire with their alternative outlooks on the former Soviet state
It’s fair to say that general coverage of the Post-Soviet region lacks dimension and variety (it’s mostly frenzied corruption, poverty and political mayhem). Whilst the presence of social upheaval isn’t entirely a myth, there is something to be said about having alternative insights provided by young creatives living in and around former USSR territory – photographers, curators and fine artists making work that investigates the turbulent political social climate whilst also shedding light on the eccentricities everyday life. Below, we chart the emerging artists offering an alternative lens to view former Soviet states.
“The figures in these drawings have a silent smile,” Kadan told Dazed last year, describing the images of torture printed on his porcelain plate series Procedure Room where the victims wear disturbingly serene expressions – a comment on the normalisation of questionable police tactics in Ukraine. The Kiev-based artist chiefly operates in the arena of politics and social relations, and his outspoken work has often resulted in run-ins with the police. As founder of Hudrada (an curatorial and activist group) and member of R.E.P (Revolutionary Experimental Space) – Kadan uses his paintings, graphics and installation as a means to investigate and challenge the chaotic political climate in Ukraine.
Gelation, Zastava’s recent video piece sees a blinking decapitated head aside two perfectly round breasts and a vase set against a white background. No stranger to the eerie and surreal, the Moscow native consistently concocts peculiar scenes, collaging Kitsch references with odd eccentricities. Although she studied Moving Images at uni, Zastava also flexes a painter’s hand, working watercolour and pencil into freaky otherworldly images (one features a hairy creature licking ice-cream on a bed with Snow White snuggled in bed sheets). Peep her mixed-media installations too, where her weird surrealistic thoughts takes physical form.
“Sexuality is empowering; it has always been a weapon” Aza Shadenova told Dazed last year, mulling over her video, photo and paint work steeped in anarchy and sexiness. Raised in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan before jetting to London in 06, the Central Saint Martins' graduate employs humour and 'blah' to explore adolescence, burgeoning sexuality and poverty. She also models and was part of ‘Russian prostitute rock’ band Manflu – which disbanded late last year. Shade’s work will be showing as part of ART15/London in Olympia, Kensington from 21-23 May.
True Self is Maximova’s standout work – a frank yet tender observation of Russian individuals exploring alternative gender identities, coupled with first-hand quotes of their lived experience as ‘othered’ citizens. Softly lit and intimate, the Moscow-based photographer has a knack for delving into private and personal spheres without invading or applying a starch critical eye. Scroll through her 2013 series Keepers, a collection of snapshots revealing the bookkeepers behind the Russian State Library – home to around 43 million items.
Washing dishes aren’t usually cited as influencing artwork, yet Kiev-based artist Anna Zvyagitseva saw it fit to recreate the dull chore in iron for a huge installation piece. It’s the mundane everyday routines that fascinate Zvyagitseva, casting a magnifying glass on the deceptively simple in a bid to explore ideas of labour, gender and routine. Born and raised in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth largest city, Zvyagitseva is also part of curatorial group Hunrada alongside Nikita Kadan, and is the co-founder of ISTM (Art Workers’ Self-Defence Initiative) – a badass project keen to assert the rights of experimental art workers in Ukraine.
Zhilyaev’s once exhibited Putin kissing a fish and a vitrine full of memorabilia gathered from porn star Sasha Grey’s visit to Russia two years ago. Fleeting between Moscow and Voronezh, Zhilyaev has always been interested in the context of an exhibition – as a space to challenge politics, consumption and art production. An artist, writer and political activist, Zhilyaev's recent trajectory dissects the politics of display and the social standing of art in contemporary Russia.