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Art in the Zones of Geopolitical Conflicts

May 24, 2017

On March 18, 2014, the Crimean peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation. Based on the results of the referendum, which were not acknowledged by Ukraine, Russia declared the Crimea its territory. The annexation of Crimea was not recognized at the international level; the UN Assembly made a resolution in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This situation led to protests and military actions in the territory of Ukraine. Many artists have reacted to this problem.

In February 2014, a month before the annexation, Petr Pavlensky and a group of St. Petersburg anarcho-activists held an action in the center of St. Petersburg where they erected symbolic barricades in support of Ukraine. A series of actions of St. Petersburg queer activist Kado was also dedicated to the war with Ukraine. In September 2014, she made a performance Blinded Russia with blood on her hands when she went blindfolded through the streets of St. Petersburg, stretching forth her hands in red paint.

The participants were arrested on the street and fined for organizing a mass event that was not approved by the authorities.

Anton Romanov – Performance for NotWorld exhibition, 2016, via


In early 2016, the {NOT WORLD} / {НЕ МИР} collective anti-war exhibition was held in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev, Ukraine. In St. Petersburg, the authorities denied to permit the street exhibition, and, as a result, it became mobile: the participants of the action held the work of authors from all over the world, moving through the center of St. Petersburg. In the end, the works were exhibited in Mystery gallery and a discussion took place. After that, {NOT WORLD} took place in Moscow, where the participants with their works were arrested on the street and fined for organizing a mass event that was not approved by the authorities. The result of the action in Moscow was the exhibitions and a series of discussions at the Zverev Center for Contemporary Art. In autumn 2016, {NOT WORLD} took place in Kiev where it turned into a three-day mobile activist laboratory. One of the project participants was Anton Romanov, the director and activist who left the Crimea in 2014, and, together with like-minded people, founded the PostPlay Theater, which works on the basis of documentary material with the theme of the war in Ukraine. For {NOT WORLD}, Anton put on a performance in which he wrote his play “Drama” with blooded fingertips as a metaphor for how Ukrainian playwrights should write texts today.

The visitors “annex[ed]’ new territories to the map of Russia using different materials. It spread out beyond all measure with Russian Federation as ‘the centre of the world”.

Maiana Nasybullova – “I hope this won’t offend anyone but I write the same way I speak. When I knew about the annexation of Crimea, I thought, this sure is feudal and fucked, but way more fucked was that I could not understand how to react, because, even in my family, some condoned and approved it. Often, I hear some jokes about it between friends, and feel quite embarrassed, too. I followed the news for some time, made a rather silly photo series about the upsurge of patriotism, but I got distracted by my everyday routine soon. This territorial dispute had no principal effect on my life, as I live in Siberia, far and deep… Going anywhere is very far and expensive, and we are busy with our own shitstorm about housing and communal services, snow removal, rotten pipes, banned gigs. Although, this looks like rationalisation.”

Schvemy – The Question of Crimea

In Spring 2016, Crimean artist Polina Rodrigues made an interactive installation Rattle Country during Museum Night in Simferopol. She asked the visitors to ‘annex’ new territories to the map of Russia using different materials. It spread out beyond all measure with Russian Federation as ‘the centre of the world’.

In March 2017, the 1st Triennial of Russian Contemporary Russian Art opened at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. The sewing cooperative and Triennial participants, Shvemy, published a statement in which they wrote the difficulties as an anarcho-feminist collective to take participate in an event such as the Garage Triennial. Their doubts began when they saw the map of the Russian Federation on the Triennial website with the annexed territory of Crimea. The artists could not leave the Triennial without having designated this zone as problematic. On the train to Moscow, they sewed a soft synthepon Crimea object and it made a journey through the works of different artists of the Triennial exhibition. Shvemy sent the photos of this journey to the authors of the works asking them two questions: “What do you think about the Crimean conflict?” and “Does this problem affect your life and work?”. After all the answers had been received, Shvemy added a photo of Crimea object against the background of the works of the artists with texts of the answers and published the results on their Facebook page.

Evidently, Crimea will continue to remain a disputed territory that emerged as the result of geopolitical and ethno-cultural conflict, and it will continue to cause further problems in future interactions.

Anatolii Osmolovskii – “What should I think about the Crimean conflict? What kind of conflict is it? It is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Your personal attitude to the situation. Has it affected your creative work? 1. A perfectly conducted military operation with uncertain consequences 2. Had an effect on the spiritual atmosphere in Russia. We entered a new epoch. Militarism and mistrust went through the roof. Art suffers a loss.”
Artiom Loskutov – “Hi! Monstration took place in Simferopol five times, from 2010 to 1014, I showed a video from our last event at the Triennial, and put it next to the one from Novosibirsk, exactly for the reason it can answer your questions”
Damir Muratov – “Slide between yes and no. Not dominate, not obey. Say yes – you will serve the yes, say no – you will serve the no. So, all those “anglosaxon” petty intrigues of yours are no call for me :)) Glory to Siberia!”
Olga Subbotina – “Crimea is a complicated topic, however, the way it has been realised is total dishonour and violation of all legal rules. It’s a shame about that appropriation.”
Elena Slobtseva – “Thank you for these important questions! I stand for free distribution of information, and talks, and discussions. I think, the Garage, on the Triennial’s opening, also announced a series of lectures and discussions dedicated to Crimea. I am not very confident about the very conflict up to date. As I know, the life is rather calm in the region these days, nobody shoots and gets killed, and this is good news. I have a few friends there, both who have been living and working there for many years (in Soviet, then, Ukrainian, and Russian Crimea, accordingly) and who are moving to already “ours” Crimea. The stories and opinions from over there are interesting to listen to; however, they are mainly about daily routine, salary, electricity, services, the Internet, and so on. In 2015, I made “Operation”, a work dedicated to the annexation of Crimea, in which I compared geopolitics to surgery – their necessary pain, anaesthesia, sutures, possible sequelae and declared therapeutic effect.”
Sveta Shuvaeva – No reply.

Featured images: Polina Rodrigues – Rattle country, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.