RUSSIA: POLITICS THROUGH ARTS
Three Years of Commentary
I am an American writer based in San Francisco. All my published work (five books and multiple stories and poems in literary magazines) is in English. I translate from Russian when needed. (I was born and raised in Russia.) Lately, it’s been needed. Since 2014, I’ve been covering the differences in culture and mentality for American and international readers. I look at politics through the prism of arts and culture (it hurts to look through any other prism.) A Western Balkan magazine Antidot defined my work genre as “a photo novella.”
Makes me think of Mexican soap-operas known as telenovelas.
Call it what you will: here is a compilation. The subjects range from painting, ballet, film, mythology, poetry to politics, protest and scandal. Since Russia — yet again! — became a hot topic one might as well learn about it from an eyewitness and survivor.
“Russia is a Sphinx,” said a great Russian poet Alexander Blok in his last poem, horrifying in its imperial militarism and intoxicating patriotism. “Joyous,” “ “mournful,” “bleeding black blood,” and “staring, staring, staring into you, with hatred and with love.” Take a look.
18 PHOTO NOVELLAS
- My very first photo novella, Swamp Lake. In Russia, ballet and power always come hand in hand. Swamps are common. Tsars and dictators alike patronize theaters. Art serves the regime. These days, the Russian achievement in music, choreography and dance support the nationalistic hysteria of Putin’s regime. I even drew Putin as a Rat King. Look! Read!
Santa Claus is delivering a nasty gift for Putin this Christmas. Due to falling oil prices and Western sanctions over…medium.com
2. This photo novella was an invitation to join The Arts Resistance, an arts collective, in 2015. Artists resist propaganda and totalitarian regime. By questioning. By creating. Independent thought process and free expression are the only long-term antidotes to the autocratic state and slavery. At least that’s what I thought at the time…
3. Then, the Russian cops busted into an art gallery. I know the artists via the Internet. It was still 2015.
“We feel somewhat like people who did not support the Nazi regime in Germany, in 1939. Russia has actually become a threat to the peace and security of mankind. We are in hard circumstances but we continue to fight, no matter what,” they said.
I wrote about these people. Little did I know. Give it two years and hop a continent…
4. Then, we did the Arts Resistance’s event for LGBT rights: a literary reading and rock band concert. “Gay talk is always a camouflage or a trick… In the past, it happened before the Great Terror. Gay people are used as scapegoats and scarecrows, and gay issues distract from today’s economical and moral problems.”
5. GOGOL’S HORROR STORY IN FRONT OF THE RUSSIAN CONSULATE.
This is a story in a story in a story — and, of course, you are reading this story inside of a story.
“On Friday night at the sundown, we came to the Russian Consulate, wearing witches’ wigs and masks. Many men in suits entered and exited while we were loading and unloading objects: a giant monster head of Putin, yoga mats, Gogol’s books.” Then we read Gogol and danced and howled, impersonating the evil. In two days, we got a call from the FBI because the Russians complained about our “terrorist action.” The FBI officer followed up and told me that we had the right to protest. It was 2015.
In summer 2017, black smoke came out of the fireplace of the Russian Consulate in SF on the record-high hot day at 103 Fahrenheit. The firemen were not allowed inside; the diplomats were just burning “a few things” before clearing the building to follow the executive order to close the Embassy.
6. Next came an interview with Evgeny Avilov, a young man who “draws blood with a syringe and paints — but does not consider himself an artist” and who “sprinkled holy water on Lenin’s mausoleum and got arrested.” Evgeny protested tyranny and war. Then he was attacked in Moscow — brick, head, blood— and came to the US to seek political asylum. (It was still 2015.)
7. Then came a very short photo novella about the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin strangling Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin strangling Russiamedium.com
8. PUSSY RIOT SAGA. In February 2016, I was invited to host Pussy Riot in San Francisco and interview them on stage because in 2012 when three young women were sentenced to three years in prison for a 40-second performance, I organized a protest in front of the said Russian Consulate. Four years later, the heroes were back and we met. Meeting heroes is a major clash between fantasy and reality.
It didn’t go smooth. Like everything Russian, the show was intense, loud, messy, tortured, heroic, ridiculous, and, occasionally, profound. All at the same time. Here are the articles about the Arts Protest Movement history in Russia, including Pussy Riot.
On February 10th, 2016 I am talking to Pussy Riot at the Warlfield theater in San Francisco.medium.com
8.1. Scandal: Insanity Art Language (*WARNING: GRAPHIC NSFW IMAGES AND LANGUAGE — we are talking about punk protests and extreme circumstances, without any censorship.) Then, lo and behold, this article was censored off the Warfield theater event page by the producers. It is not PG-13 or office friendly.
Questions about a frozen chicken in vagina, group sex in museum, and other performing art actions of Pussy Riot and…medium.com
8.2. The Splendors and miseries of mythologies…
“A man walks into the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, undresses, climbs into a 2,000 years old Roman tomb and begins rubbing himself with a soaped sponge.” He washes the symbols of the ruling party “United Russia” off his body. This is my favorite of the articles in this series. I love Barthes. He twists my mind like no one else.
“Fascism does not only silence people but also forces them to speak.” — Barthescrossingenres.com
8.3. POWER AND OPPOSITION: SADOMASOCHISM, INC. What happened to the opposition?
A simplified vision of the world is dangerous because in the real world odd things happen. Life is not a poster-ready slogan. Good people are scared — rightly so — to act or speak up. Artists and activists get burnt out or distracted by their lives, their egos. They get manipulated by security services. Some want awards. Some want money. Some want copyright. Anonymous artists become celebrities. The anti-establishment goes commercial. Avant-garde always becomes mainstream.
I am Tsar, — I am a slave, — I am a worm, — I am God (Derzhavin.)crossingenres.com
8.4. Why the Pussy Riot show went wrong. So many reasons. Fear. Confusion. Money. Booze.
We also warned about Trump and Putin. It was February 2016. Nobody listened. Oh, well.
9. A very short photo novella about human rights violation in Russia. In December 2015, Ildar Dadin was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for peaceful street protests. He is the first person in Russia to be jailed using the new law, that punishes repeated breaches of public assembly rules. I could not interview Dadin in jail but I had a chance to speak to his fiancée, journalist Anastasia Zotova. *Sadly, after Dadin was released from prison, it turned out that Ms. Zotova staged the marriage — either for PR or working for security services or both. A scandal followed but I didn’t look into it. See the above article on the dissolution of the opposition. It is never straightforward.
In December 2015, Ildar Dadin was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for peaceful street protests. He is the…medium.com
10. RUSSIA WILL BE FREE. About 20, 000 courageous people protested Putin’s regime in Moscow on February 27, 2016. The march commemorated the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, shot in the back in front of the Kremlin in 2015. The mass media in Russia reported only 7,000 people present at the march. As I am putting together this compilation, in January 2018, protests against Putin shake Russia again.
There is little hope that Russia will be free anytime soon — but it will be free. One day. Maybe. I don’t really believe it but I want to believe it.
11. LIQUID SKY OF HISTORY. I lied — this is my favorite photo novella! It was fun to write, fun to share and it got picked by Medium staff and shared endlessly by readers — for which I am grateful. I love Liquid Sky— a poetic, gritty, and bizarre film — and I interviewed the crew since then.
Interviews appeared in paper magazines and some are forthcoming on Medium. Although, I am scared that the crew is… pro-Trump. The majority of Russian-Jewish immigrants are. But the film was great and I don’t feel like being more disillusioned than I already am. So I just never wrote back to them and asked. I wrote the articles before all this crap happened. Am I a hypocrite? It is just a memory of a film.
12. This is a translation of the last poem by Ilya Ehrenburg by an author and translator Jenny Alton. A poignant surreal summary of Russian political life by a poet, essayist, novelist and a propagandist Ehrenburg, an extremely controversial figure in the Russian culture.
Was he a collaborationist? I don’t know. Things are not black and white.
13. In times of Evil, partying or praying will not bring salvation. Songs will. Poetry. Art. This is the main idea of The Arts Resistance. We staged Pushkin’s FEAST IN THE TIMES OF THE PLAGUE: TRUMP, PUTIN, HITLER just two weeks before the elections 2016. It was our warning. It didn’t work. Warnings do not work. Cassandras are not heard. I am not sure anymore that songs will bring freedom. I don’t know what will.
Dangerous Thinking Show at Lit Crawl, by The Arts Resistancemedium.com
14. Here I wrote about the Medieval values, collective consciousness, the idea of the absolute submission to the authoritarian leader/father figure: husband, priest, Tsar, God, Führer — and the President and also about women being beaten.
What’s the Difference between Child Abuse and Fascism?crossingenres.com
15. America has entered the LAWLESSNESS zone. Like most Americans, you might have no resources to understand lawlessness and cannot relate but you can read my article, pay attention and be aware. The closest here is Pulp Fiction, really.
All former Soviet Union folks can smell it. We lived it and we are warning you — don’t let it happen.
16. Terrorist attacks as a political tool in Russia.
17. A St. Petersburg music group whips its intoxicating puzzle out of raw meat, rhinestones, corruption, and mafia state shards at the time of bloody censorship — and not just gets away with it but gets through to the masses. Photo-novella at its best. Maybe, a video-novella. “A Prison Tattoo-Artist.”
18. As reported by The Washington Post,“An underwear dance video filmed in a college dormitory nearly got some Russian cadet pilots expelled and sparked a discussion among Russia’s political elite.” History on repeat.
16. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, takes an influential, high-rank Kremlin official Segey Prikhodko for a ride on his yacht and pays for the trip and escort services. One of the sex workers shares photos and videos on the social media. “ALL THAT IS SECRET IS NOW OBVIOUS…”
Evidence from Sex Industry Workers Has Arrivedmedium.com
17. More on scandal… Learn how the KGB/FSB used sex scandal, sexpionage and honey trap as a political tool:
- Putin’s rise to presidency
- Destruction of opposition leaders
- How it was done: Recruiting and Blackmail
- Important Conclusion
Did you enjoy this ride through Arts and Politics?
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Photo novellas on the investigation of the collusion between the Russian oligarchy and Trump’s administration. Watch investigative journalism turn into political satire… Boy, isn’t that fun.
Investigative Photo Stories: Manafort, Page, Nunes, Wray and Moremedium.com
Oh did you see that already? Well, here is a wild adventure in Russian Cyberwar and Propaganda:
We even have a YouTube Channel! Videos! WAAATCH!
A series of live, online and video seminars and workshops on goals, methods and strategies of the Kremlin propaganda…www.youtube.com
And reports from the site —the MLK park that became known as a “Nazi Park” in Berkeley in 2017. Simon Rogghe and I even warn some award for a photo taken with an iPhone.
We were even promised some money for it! (Never got it, but the idea! Wow!) At your service, the unreceived award-winning photographers. Check this out! Berkeley Clashes, 2017:
*All facts and photos are in public domain and available through Google. Links to the original sources are included.
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