Urban Art in Russia, Part 3: Rebirth of the Russian street art as politically and socially engaged art (2011—2012)

We continue serie of articles about Urban art in Russia. In 4 articles we try to describe story from Avant-garde, Moscow actionism to graffiti/street Art and socially engaged Urban Art with analyse today situation of expropriation by commercial and governmental structures.

This is the third part about rebirth of the Russia street art as a politically and socially engaged art in the early 2010's.

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The practice of coming-out in public space by avant-gardists in the beginning of the 20th century and by actionists of 1990s was political by nature. This is largely due to the fact that public issues in Russia always have a political and social context. No matter how hard participants of the vast street art and graffiti community tried to keep away from this context, nowadays it seems impossible.

In fall 2011 there were compromised parliamentary elections that provoked numerous protests across the country, which was considered the beginning of formation of a civil society in Russia.

'Revolution' graffiti

'Revolution' graffiti

When in 2012 the atmosphere of protest movements reached its peak, the splash of illegal and folk art could be seen in the streets. It was not supported by street art practices, but had a huge impact. Such an informal folk activity enchanted and encouraged many people, including artists.

Voina, Saint-Petersburg, 2011

Voina, Saint-Petersburg, 2011

For example, at that time the practices of Moscow actionism of the 1990s were actively used by radical artists of new wave such as Pussy Riot, Voina (“war” in Russian), and Piotr Pavlensky. In the same way as the actionists of the 1990s, they declared the issues the most provocative way. Thanks to media coverage, many of these actions became world famous. However, these practices could be related to street art only indirectly, because their actions used public space merely as a medium for their statements, and not as a full environment for creating their works.

In the street art environment, political agenda could be primarily traced through large-scale works by Ekaterinburg artist Tima Radya who became famous thanks to his reactionary and political works such as "Loss of Strength", "You were cheated" and "Figure # 1: Stability”. Working in the genre of total installations, he managed to make truly critical and powerful statements absolutely illegally.

In a symbolic contradiction to Tima’s activity, there were Moscow artists Kirill KTO and Pasha 183, both of whom started out as graffiti writers more than 15 years ago. Their works were spontaneous and not of such magnitude, but no less impressive in their statement.

  • Kirill Kto, 2011-2012, Moscow

Kirill KTO had more expressive and poetic works of textual nature, often based onreflection.

Pasha 183 mostly worked in the genre of street installations, first of which dated in 2008. Until this moment the artist mainly addressed routine matters of existence in the city; in 2011 he created two politicized works: "To Incendiaries of Bridges" and "Truth to Truth." In their turn, they underlined anarchist and protest artist spirit that had been present in his works but was never so obvious.

Partizaning team also works in the political field. By means of urban interventions we call for self-organization and change of urban areas, and by using our website we try to mobilize the spirit of protest and informal street art.

Nevertheless, despite some examples of political and social street art in Russia, a pronounced political involvement and solidarity is absent in the community; and many artists continue to make their works in the city while ignoring the current situation. Often this is due to reluctance to work with complex issues and topics, but sometimes this political indifference to some extent acts as deliberate opposition to the authorities that try to manipulate the masses. However, this indifference largely plays into the hands of political and commercial structures that further expropriate street art practices in their own self-interest.

Translation by Fania Balabanova.
Read Part 2 — Soviet hip-hop and Russian street art community (1980s—2008)