The Body of Russia, Given to Thee

Center “E” Comes Looking For Performance Artist Who Changed Disabled Orphan’s Dressings Near Kremlin
Natalia Zotova
Novaya Gazeta
June 13, 2016

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Katrin Nenasheva and Dmitry Zhdanov. Photo: Viktor Novikov/Facebook

Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) officers visited the dormitory room of performance artist Katrin Nenasheva at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow on Sunday. Nenasheva reported this on Facebook, referring to the accounts of her dormitory roommates. Nenasheva was not in the dormitory at the time.

A few hours earlier, the artist had staged a performance in Moscow’s Alexander Garden. As passersby looked on, she changed the daily dressings of a former orphanage ward now confined to a wheelchair.

The young man who took part in the performance was Dmitry Zhdanov. He was disabled after jumping from the fifth floor of a building in despair and breaking his back. His brother had been beaten up by other former orphanage wards, who had not been punished for the crime. The criminal case against them fell apart altogether. The performance was dedicated to wards of orphanages and the punishments they suffer.

“It was an exhibition of the body, the real symbol of those very punishments,” Nenasheva explained to Novaya Gazeta.

“Why should I hide the wounds I got from living in this system? Such things must be shown. My body is Russia just as it is today,” Nenasheva quoted Zhdanov as saying.

“Many people avoided us and would not let their kids approach Dmitry. Some people turned away. There was a man who just ran off, clutching his head,” wrote the artist about the performance.

Police did not attempt to detain them. According to Nenasheva, they were confused and did not know what to do.

The performance was timed to coincide with Russia Day (June 12), but was part of the multiday action Punishment (Nakazanie), dedicated to wards of orphanages.

“One of the most common punishments is sending children to mental hospitals, where various methods are used to limit their mobility, for example, by tying them to the beds,” Nenasheva explained another performance in the action, in which she tied herself to a bed frame and carried it down the street. “Of course, the experience delineates their lives, and it remains with them in one shape or another, as a memory, symbol or just a metaphor.”

Nenasheva has done push-ups on the streets and stood on one leg during the action. These are all punishments meted out to orphans.

The action will last twenty-one days. It is the same number of days that children diagnosed with “mental retardation” at orphanages are sent to mental hospitals, explained Nenasheva, adding the diagnosis is often made for no objective reason.

“I think the topic was touched on too concretely, ” Nenasheva told Novaya Gazeta when asked to comment on law enforcement’s having shown up at her room. “When there are two people, an artist and a real, totally alive, and simultaneously scary character, the message is more assertive, and it really is not clear what to do with it.”

Last year, Nenasheva also staged a multiday performance. She walked around Moscow for a month dressed in a prison uniform, drawing attention to the stigmatization of ex-convicts, who find it hard to adjust to life on the outside. It was then that Nenasheva shaved herself bald on Red Square, for which she was sentenced to twenty-four hours in a special detention center.

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