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Anastasia Pilepchuk crafts intricate, out-of-this-world masks

Pearl-encrusted tongues, skin made from cherries or fake eyes, cheeks for candleholders: the artist’s fantastical masks transport you to a different realm

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One look at Anastasia Pilepchuk’s Instagram feed and you’re transported to a different realm. Pearl-encrusted tongues, skin made from cherries or fake eyes, cheeks for candleholders: her universe is made up of an array of fantastical masks in unexpected forms. If the 94k-strong following that the Russia-born, Berlin-based artist has amassed is to be believed, it’s one many people want to spend time in.

Pilepchuk’s craft began almost a decade ago, making costumes for the DJ duo she founded with her girlfriend (“we created a legend that we were some sexless creatures,” she says). At some point, however, she realised the music world takes more than it gives. “I separated the activities and that was my best decision,” she says. “I left myself only the creation of masks.” Since then, Pilepchuk’s mask-making has become increasingly complex, both aesthetically and technically.

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking Pilepchuk’s masks had been taken from their own foreign planets. But quite the opposite: Pipelchuk’s work is rooted in a fascination with the world around her that started when she was young. “My earliest memories of beauty are blocks of frozen ice on Lake Baikal, alien-like icicles on the Angara River, mountains in Buryatia… ” she says, recalling the landscape of her home in eastern Russia. It was this unique natural habitat, plus the presence of her caring grandmother, that Pilepchuk credits as some of her most formative influences.

Her personal definition of beauty? “What enchants, what makes me want to stop and consider, and what is difficult to understand.” As children, she says, it’s easy for us to admire and see the beauty in many manifestations of life, but when we get older we lose this ability. Through her art, this childlike sense of wonder is something that Pilepchuk has clung onto, and is what makes her work so engaging. “I view ordinary phenomena from different angles and synthesise my own beauty.” 

Her creations are the result: observations, thoughts and anxieties about herself and the planet, somehow distilled into perfect, wearable worlds. On Pilepchuk’s body, each mask seems to come alive to tell its own story. “If you put all my masks in a row, it would be a kind of biography, my biography,” she has said about her work. We’ll be looking out for the next chapter.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: When I was a child I lived in several places. The first three years I spent in Yakutia, Neryngri. I don’t remember anything from there except permafrost and twin teachers in my kindergarten. When I was around four, my family moved between Irkutsk and the Buryat city of Ulan-Ude. Most of my good childhood memories are from Ulan-Ude. It’s a place where shamanism, Buddhism, and orthodoxy coexist. When I was eight my family moved to Moscow, where I spent most of my life. I graduated from the Moscow State University of Design and Technology with a degree in fashion design but decided not to develop the idea. Now I live in Berlin.

Ever since I remember, I have always been interested in art. My self-expression took many forms. I loved to play the guitar and piano, I drew, knitted and sculpted. I loved to walk through the forests and fields, inventing my own world. I thought I could talk to birds and cats.

What is it that you do now?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: I create art masks. I study myself and the things around me. I pass through the accumulated experience and impressions and recreate my own world with different entities that contain my observations and memories.

How has social media played a role in your creative journey?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: I started making masks back when I hardly ever used Instagram. For a long time, I didn’t post my work and just blogged about my life. At some point, I got over my imposter syndrome and gradually masks became the main content on my page. Of course, that helped me a lot. I had no idea that Instagram would bring so much attention to my work. Thanks to this platform, I found like-minded people and my audience, I became known all over the world, and I got the opportunity to work with great people.

Who is your beauty icon?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: When I was a child and a teenager, I was madly in love with Björk for her madness, for her vision, for the images and of course the music. I still consider her one of the most brilliant people in the field of music and self-expression.

When do you feel most beautiful?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: I can’t say that I reflect on whether or not I’m beautiful. Sometimes I look in the mirror and see someone I like, sometimes the opposite. However, I can definitely say that I feel great when I do my favourite things, when I communicate with my loved ones or when I enjoy nature. These must be the moments when I look my best.

What is the future of beauty?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: It’s difficult for me to predict, but I wish there were more experiments – not only on social media pages, but also in real life.

You are God and you are creating humans. They can look however you want them to. What do they look like?

Anastasia Pilepchuk: I would add ears like cats, a tail, and another pair of hands. I’d also make skin colours quite bright – different shades of blue, pink and so on. Other than that, people are pretty cool.