Wednesday, June 3, 2009

May 2009: Moscow

When I was in New Zealand, I met a lot of awesome people, one of these folks being Oliver. Currently, this linguist is teaching English in Moscow. After following my blog for a while, he shot me an e-mail with some photos and stories of his new digs. He writes: 

“I've been living in Moscow for over seven months now. Even though that's longer than Meg has been compiling her blog, I haven't, until now, seen one piece of street art in this city. I did see a wall of tags from a train window as I travelled north out of Moscow in January, but it didn't have any artistic merit that I could discern -- all it did was leave me thinking about how much this tiny, industrial village suffered, like so many others, from Russia's transition from communism to market capitalism. What I found last week was far more up-beat.” 
“The wall depicted in these photos backs onto a long, side-by-side row of garages, which service the oh-so-Russian block of flats that can be seen behind it. In the interests of economy, I've had to reduce the selection of photos to a representative sample, because the wall, covered completely in paint, was enormous. I spotted this wall on the other side of a busy road as two friends and I made our way from the Metro station to the Russian Museum of Palaeontology. Thinking, first, how impressive this wall was, then how unusual it was in this city of pastels and concrete, I insisted on taking photos of them on our way back from the museum.” 
“I don't know much of anything about art. I don't know anything at all about street art. However, this isn't to say that these works don't conjure up some sort impression for me -- that impression being that street-art and graffiti represent another stage in Russia's cycle of ambivalence towards the West.” 
“From at least the time of Peter the Great onwards, Russia has alternated between open interest in the west, and outward rejection of it. (If you’re interested, the novel Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev depicts the ideological conflict between Liberals and so called Slavophiles of the nineteenth century quite nicely).  During the days of the Soviet Union (while street art was developing in the U.S.A.), Russians lived in what was essentially a closed society; before Gorbachev began implementing reforms in the 1980s that would open Russia to the rest of the world once again.” 
“The massive display of street art in these photos -- an art form with its roots firmly planted in America (not to mention the depictions of Western pop-culture) -- implies to me that, on the updraft of perestroika, Russians are once again looking to the West for inspiration. Or, at the very least, the underground art scene is.” 

Thanks, Oliver! Best of luck with the rest of the year! He hopes to travel around Europe this summer, so I'm crossing my fingers that he'll stumble on more street art soon.

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