Feminists vs. Police in Petersburg

2019-06-05-russia03-01-3

Police Show Up at Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg
Mediazona
November 10, 2019

Police have shown up at the Eve’s Ribs Feminist Festival in Petersburg, human rights defender Varya Mikhaylova has informed Mediazona.

Mikhaylova reported that a uniformed male officer and a female plainclothes officer were in the festival space, and a police cruiser was parked next to the entrance. The male officer had asked festival organizer Leda Garina to show them the rental agreement and had inquired about the festival’s repertoire.

Mikhaylova added that the police visit had been triggered by a complaint filed by anti-gay activist Timur Bulatov.

“A performance of the play ’10 Scenes of Sexual Violence’ is scheduled for today,” Mikhaylova said. “[The police officers] want to stay and watch.”

garina policeEve’s Ribs Festival organizer Leda Garina and a police officer. This photo was posted yesterday on the festival’s VK page

Police Promise to Show Up Every Day of Feminist Festival Eve’s Ribs
Fontanka.ru
November 11, 2019

Police officers have visited the Skorokhod theater space, where the Eve’s Ribs international feminist art festival has been taking place. Festival co-founder Leda Garina told Fontanka.ru about the incident on November 11.

“The police officers told us they would monitoring the presence of minors at the festival,” Garina said. “They’re going to inspect the bar at the Skorokhod. And if we summon human rights defenders, the police will call in the guys in the masks, who will line us up against the wall, and then find a way to shut us down.”

As Garina noted, police had already been at the festival the previous day in response to a complaint by activist [sic] Timur Bulatov and had demanded Garina show them the lease agreement for the festival space.

“The police summoned the site’s managers, issued them an order to check the documents of visitors, and warned that they would come to the festival every day,” said Garina. “We’re afraid of provocations and really will be checking everyone’s IDs at the door. This is quite sad, however, because children face sexual abuse and lack of financial support from their fathers much earlier than the age of eighteen, but we cannot talk to them about it.”

Eve’s Ribs, an international festival of feminist theater, cinema, and performance art, runs from November 10 to November 17 in Petersburg. The main venues are the Skorokhod and the space run by the organizers, the social and artistic project Eve’s Ribs.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. First photo courtesy of The World. Translated by the Russian Reader

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After decades in the shadows, Russia’s feminists grab their spotlight
Indra Ekmanis
The World
June 5, 2019

Russian feminists paraded a 13-foot-tall model vagina down the streets of St. Petersburg on May 1, 2018, without getting arrested. It was a big win.

“[Police] arrested only those who they have orders to arrest,” says Leda Garina, director of the Eve’s Ribs, a social, artistic, documentary and communication project devoted to the subject of gender discrimination. “But there were no vagina orders, so they didn’t know how to react.”

The giant vagina didn’t spark police action in 2018, but participants were not so lucky in 2019. Six Eve’s Ribs activists were detained.

In a country where the concept of feminism remains at best socially neutral and at worst a “mortal sin,” activists fighting for gender equality under the banner of feminism have to take success where they can get it. And it’s often fleeting.

“This year, one of the girls wore a vagina costume, and they made her take it off so right there in the middle of the May 1 parade, so she was walking basically naked in the middle of the parade and she was just showing everyone the finger,” says Garina, 37.

Activists like Garina and other women at Eve’s Ribs are working to unite people interested in feminism by bringing them together in a physical space. To that end, they opened Cafe Simona — a women-only workspace by day and event space by night.

“The idea was that here you can feel at ease, because in public spaces in Russia, men always bother you,” Garina says. “Men will always come up and ask, ‘What are you writing, what are you eating, what does it say on your shirt?’ It’s terrible.”

There’s a generational shift happening when it comes to feminism in Russia. Millennials and Gen Zers are online — many read English and have been exposed to the fundamental reasoning behind the concept of men and women being born equal. And after decades of repression under the Soviet Union, feminist activism is reemerging in today’s Russia.

“Officially, after the [1917 Russian] Revolution, all women’s rights were achieved, so therefore according to the Soviet system, feminism as a movement had no need to exist,” Garina says.

But the ideal of gender equality as espoused in Marxist doctrine was far from reality. Though equality was touted in principle after the Communist revolution and women’s education and literacy rates rose, in practice, it looked quite different. Female participation in the labor force was not free of gender gaps and didn’t translate into equality in domestic duties. Despite some strides (the Soviet space program had a woman cosmonaut decades before the US did), women were still largely expected to take on work in the home, care for children, and stand in long lines for food in addition to their “equal work” outside the home.

As the USSR was crumbling, feminism began to resurface as a more active movement. But when the Soviet Union did collapse in 1991, women faced new challenges.

“The next problem that women encountered was capitalism. Suddenly there was this new pressure where women became objectified,” Garina says. “This was not the case during the Soviet Union. This meant that women needed to look like super sexualized models in addition to doing all the housework.”

In the post-Soviet years, the main achievements of feminist activists has been “gradual conscious-raising,” pointing to issues that had rarely been in the public discourse previously, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment and discrimination against women and sexual minorities.

But these gains have sustained major blows. In 2017, the Russian State Duma, or lower house of parliament, eased penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence.

“The 2017 amendments symbolized a green light for domestic violence by reducing penalties for perpetrators, made it harder for women to seek prosecution of their abusers, and weakened protections for victims,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Studies suggest that at least one in five women face domestic violence, largely from partner abuse. The vast majority of such incidents go unreported — only about 3% make it to court. The 2017 law — sometimes dubbed the “slapping law” — allows first-time offenders against a partner or a child to be subject to a fine, rather than a criminal charge. It was also supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which touts “traditional family values.”

The church has been vocally opposed to feminist groups. The band Pussy Riot was famously detained for a rebellious performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, then found guilty of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” — directly linked, by the judge, to feminism.

Garina of Eve’s Ribs has been arrested more than once for her feminist work. But she says it won’t deter her.

“My personal goal, as a creative person and as a director, is spread the word about feminism,” she says. “Therefore it needs to be funny, controversial, sexualized, but we can’t just complain. We can always complain about domestic abuse and sexual abuse, but I think that if we don’t show that we can be aggressive, none of our complaints will be heard.”

Another prominent feminist activist, Zalina Marshenkulova, 30, has taken to social media to talk directly to people. Marshenkulova runs “Woman Power” — a channel on Telegram, a popular messaging app in Russia.

Her goal is to explain feminism to a mainstream Russian audience, but Marshenkulova is also known for a Russian Reebok ad campaign that sparked outrage with this slogan on Instagram:

“Don’t sit around hooked on male approval — sit on a man’s face.”

Reebok deleted the campaign, but later put the images back up, except for the controversial one.

Internet users shared screen grabs of the deleted ad.

“I think this ad was good for the Russian audience because if this ad were to run in this light, vanilla, Western style, which I don’t like — something like, ‘be strong, women are great’ — you know, the stuff you see in European ads, this doesn’t work at all here,” Marshenkulova says. “Basically whining and saying ‘let’s respect women’ — this doesn’t work here. This is not Europe, it’s not America.”

Still, Marshenkulova’s frank attitude toward Russian feminism has won her a lot of fans online — including men.

“Yes, I have very many male supporters,” she says. “They understand what I want and they understand the patriarchy kills men too, not only women.”

Marshenkulova, who grew up in a small town in Russia’s far north, says she was raised to “be modest, be quiet,” but it didn’t suit her personality.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been rowdy,” she says. “I have a strong personality, you can’t shut me up, you can’t tell me my place. My place is wherever I want it to be, so I try to pass this idea along to other women.”

As in politics, going against the status quo in Russia means taking on some risk. “Opinion makers in this country are always in danger,” Marshenkulova says. But change is happening — slowly.

“I think that one of the big victories for feminism happened just in the past two years,” she says. “Now feminists sometimes appear on television, and not too long ago we were completely invisible. It’s a big accomplishment for us that some channels started talking about feminism in a neutral tone as opposed to highly negative tone. In the past, it was all negative.”

Marshenkulova and Garina take different approaches to feminist activities in Russia, but they agree most activists are largely working toward the same goal.

“Some of them are radical and separatist — they want to work with women exclusively. Others are more liberal,” Garina says. “I believe that all of these movements are important and are moving in one direction because they all influence society. I am willing to work with everyone, women, men, animals, plants, as long as we actually cause some change.”

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Leokadia Frenkel: How to Defeat Russia’s Ruling Party in Your Own Neighborhood

lika-1.jpgLeokadia Frenkel talks to local residents protesting vote rigging. Photo by David Frenkel

“I Realized They Were Getting Ready to Throw the Election”: A Petersburg Woman Talks About How She Fought Three Days to Have the Real Vote Tally Confirmed
Leokadia Frenkel is a member of the election commission in Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District, where not a single United Russia candidate was elected
Sofia Volyanova
TJournal
September 12, 2019

Three days after Russia’s nationwide election day on September 8, the results of the municipal district council races in Petersburg had not been officially announced. In four districts where ruling United Russia party candidates did not win a majority of seats on the councils, the election commissions postponed their final meetings. In the Vladimirsky Municipal District, all the ruling party’s candidates had lost, according to preliminary vote tallies. The Yabloko Party had won twelve seats, while five seats had gone to independent candidates, and three seats to A Just Russia.

At some of the polling stations where opposition candidates were leading, election officials decided to recount the votes. As a consequence, United Russia candidates suddenly took the lead, while independent candidates were robbed of critical votes.

Leokadia Frenkel, a voting member of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission, told TJournal how she and the winning candidates prevented such vote rigging in her own district. She was forced to sleep in the district council building and was assaulted by the election commission’s deputy chairwoman, who attempted to lock Frenkel in an office.

__________________________________________________

On election day, I arrived at the Central District administration building, where our municipal district election commission is located, at seven in the morning. We invalidated ballots, then I got the papers I had to take to the different polling stations and I delivered them. I communicated with the polling station election commissions and monitored what was happening. At eight in the evening, I returned to the Central District building, where we invalidated the rest of the ballots that needed invalidating.

We did not receive a single complaint during the voting and the vote counts. Everything was completely fair and square. I had no complaints with the commission chair.

“The polling station election commission chairs will go with me, and we will enter the results into GAS [automated state elections system],” she said.

But then, during the night, someone told us all the election commission chairs had been sent home and no one had entered their vote tallies into GAS because it was down. We learned this completely by accident. I asked the secretary of the municipal district election commission what had happened, why the vote tallies had not been entered into GAS, and why the commission chairs had been sent home. She said something was broken, but we checked and nothing was broken. They were playing for time: they needed an excuse to do a recount. That was when we realized the fix was in and we spent the night in the administration building.

Why did I stay there? I was afraid they would convene the municipal district election commission without me. I wanted to be there and register my dissenting opinion if there was a recount.

The winning candidates slept there, too, because the ballots had been packed up and stored in the basement. They were making sure the ballots were not stolen. There were advisory and voting members of the polling station commissions who had done their jobs honestly and wanted to prevent electoral fraud.

The commission had left in the wee hours of September 9, saying it would reconvene at four in the afternoon. But it did not show up at four in the afternoon. We kept waiting, finally filing complaints with the Territorial Election Commission and the Central Election Commission.

We spent the whole day in the building. The very nice, hospital head of the Central District talked to us and gave us chairs so we would not have to lie on the floor. Our friends supplied us with food and water.

We spent over twenty fours in that building.

The head of the district communicated the City Election Commission’s decision to us and said all the chairs of the polling station election commissions would be gathering and all the final vote tallies would be entered into GAS.

When the chair of the commission showed up, she summoned all the polling station chairs. At nine in the evening, they started entering the vote tallies into GAS. The results were entered correctly: there was no vote rigging.

But the fact is that the chair of our municipal district election commission did not come and pick up the results. First, she said they were not ready, although they were ready. She was supposed to collect them and hold a final meeting of the commission to confirm the vote tally and the list of winning candidates. Many independent candidates and new people won seats on the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council. No one from United Russia was among the victors, so maybe they were angry or somehow affiliated with the municipal district council.

Leokadia Frenkel sleeping outside the office of the deputy head of the Central District

After the vote tallies were entered into the GAS, I went home and the next day I was busy with my own affairs. But the final sitting of the commission had not been held nor had the documents been collected. I telephoned the chair and asked what the matter was. So I would not worry, she said the meeting would be held and everything would be fair and square.

At nine in the morning on September 11, the candidates telephoned me and said that certain polling station commission chairs had shown up at the municipal council for some unknown purpose. So I also went to the municipal district election commission, once again asking when our final session would be held and why the paperwork, which had long been ready, had not been picked up.

The deputy chair was the only one in the office, so I asked her. I saw a paper on her desk with no date or registry number. It was a complaint, filed by United Russia candidate Igor Kartsev, who requested a recount.  I realized they were getting ready to throw the election. Instead of getting ready for the final meeting, they were grooming people affiliated with them to file complaints requesting a recount, as was happening in other municipal districts, in order to steal the victory from the independent candidates.

I took the complaint in order to photograph it when the deputy chair attacked me from behind. She tried to snatch the letter from me and destroy it.  There were many people present, including the candidates and voting members of our commission. One of them grabbed the complaint, which the deputy chair tried to snatch from me, in order to save it from destruction. He photographed it and posted it on social media.

Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission deputy chair attacked @likafrenk, a voting member of the commission from Yabloko, to stop her from seeing documents and complaints that would trigger a recount. The voting member managed to escape despite the fact that the deputy chair tried not to let her out, but now the deputy chair claims it was she who was attacked. She was taken away in an ambulance.

The deputy chair tried to lock me in the office and prevent from getting out by holding the door shut. There was a slight tussle: I wedged my foot in the doorway, but she tried to hit me with the door so I could not get out. When she let go of the door, I escaped. I filed a complaint with the City Election Commission, explaining that I had found a strange document. I also wrote that I was afraid, since the final commission meeting had not been held, that they were planning to throw the election.

I filed a complaint with the police about the attack and the fact that the municipal district election commission had tried to destroy the documents I had turned up. And I went to the emergency room and had the doctors there document the injury I suffered when the deputy chair hit me with the door to keep me looked in her office. I ended up with a bruise on my leg, of course.

The commission is located in the building where the municipal council has its offices. The police and an ambulance were summoned. Allegedly, either someone hit someone else or I hit someone. But I could not have hit anyone because I was on the other side of the door, in an office where there was nowhere else. Complaints were filed to the effect that I had, allegedly, absconded with certain documents, but I had not stolen them. I was in the commission office and the deputy chair would not let me out. I could not have stolen the documents.

Also, the deputy chairwoman filed a complaint that someone had hit her in the hallway or something to that effect. She also had her alleged injuries documented at the emergency room, and she was taken to hospital.

I don’t know what is going on here, but it all began when the incumbent council members got a look at the vote tallies. When they realized they had lost in all the districts, they postponed the final commission meetings and the announcements of the results. First, they put off entering the results into GAS, but when the actual, correct results were entered into the system, they tried to put off holding the final commission meetings.

Holding a recount is one way of switching out ballots and substituting them with fake ballots. But they still have to be signed by two commission members, at least. They want to switch the ballots and recount the votes. What are they fighting for? They want a majority on the council. They want to prevent the independent candidates for gaining a majority on the council and then electing their own chair.

Tomorrow is the last day when they can hold the final, wrap-up session, and now social media are reporting that, allegedly, the municipal district election commissions are going to be meeting at the Central District administration building and, allegedly, the election results will be confirmed in keeping with the vote tallies that the polling station election commissions arrived at fair and square.

lika-3.jpg
Leokadia Frenkel. Photo by David Frenkel

It is now the evening of September 11, and a rather large number of people have gathered outside the offices of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council, including the winning independent candidates, commission members outraged by the fact that the authorities have been trying to throw the election. These people have said they will not go home because the authorities are trying to throw the election.

The winning candidates spent the whole day picketing the municipal district election commission and demanding the immediate confirmation of the results. But just now the police detained someone here. [It later transpired that a young woman conducting a solo picket protesting vote rigging had been detained. She did not have a local residence permit, so she was put into a police car, but she was released after the police checked her return tickets — TJournal.]

I came here to see what was going on. Everything is closed, but people have gathered here all the same. The candidates called local residents who signed petitions to get them on the ballot and told them the authorities were trying to steal their votes, and so these residents have also come.

The candidates are going to stand guard at the Central District administration building. As soon as they see that the chair has shown up, I will also run over there. If a recount is demanded, a report will be issued. I will send a dissenting opinion to the City Election Commission and the Central Election Commission and tell them there was vote rigging and a recount.

All the rough stuff lies ahead of us. Now, however, I don’t see anything rough happening. I see lots of young people who are determined to fight. They are proactive and positive. Of course, it would be a blow to me if everything into which we have put so much effort is declared null and void, if there is a recount and they steal the victory. But we plan to fight.

I have only positive thoughts. I did not expect the opposition to win, but win they did in all the districts. This is the first time when people who deserve to win have won. In this sense, it was fair and square. There was nothing like this in past elections. Nobody wanted to vote. Suddenly young people the candidates, their friends and their aidesappeared on the scene, and it’s great. I have seen another world, a world of young people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: Relaxation for Men

darja-1Darya Apahonchich is one of the artists exhibited at the 2019 Festival of Political Photography at the Finnish Museum of Photography. Photo by Liisa Takala. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for Men
Darya Apahonchich wanted to make prostitution visible so she photographed men
Jussi Lehmusvesi
Helsingin Sanomat
March 13, 2019

A good three years ago, Petersburg teacher Darya Apahonchich was walking to work when she noticed letters painted on the sidewalk.

ОТДЫХ

Freely translated, the word means “relaxation, rest.” Apahonchich knew it was one of the most common phrases in Russia for advertising prostitution.

Apahonchich was intrigued. On previous walks to work, she had noticed that ads for brothels had spread everywhere, including walls, light poles, and transformer boxes, and now they seemed to have flooded the streets, too. There was also something irritating about the word отдых.

Relaxation.

Or the slightly longer version:

Relaxation for men.

Apahonchich had an idea. She was also a professional artist and had worked in several groups that produced political art. She asked male acquaintances to think about how they really relaxed. Then she took the men to the sex ads and asked them to assume the poses they had chosen for relaxing.

The photographs were produced in the middle of sidewalks as passersby watched.

“I wasn’t trying to take smooth, finished art photos but snapshots,” she said. “People’s reactions were supportive or, more often, indifferent. Petersburg is a big city, after all, and people are not easily surprised.”

After the photoshoot, she posted the photos on social media and waited for a reaction.

Things kicked off after a while.

Apahonchich’s photos attracted attention on social media. The photographer was asked for interviews by more traditional media.

She was more delighted by offers from complete strangers, men who wanted to be involved in the project.

“They said they wanted to relax and asked whether they could help me,” Apahonich says.

Despite what you might imagine, there was nothing suggestive about the men’s requests. They genuinely wanted to be involved in doing something good.

The photographer accepted the offers and new photos were produced.

“It started out just as a fun thing but gradually turned into something more serious,” she says.

darja-2Two young men relaxing. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

The success of Apahonchich’s photos could be explained by their skewed perspective. We have seen plenty of pictures of people victimized by prostitution at exhibitions but the gaze in her photos is focused on men.

This also has its own meaning for her.

“When people talk about prostitution, they usually talk about women, but I hope to make something invisible visible in the images I produce,” Apahonchich says.

It is a reasonable aspiration in the sense that men are active in the sex trade as middlemen, customers and, sometimes, vendors, too.

“Of course, men see my pictures differently. Some see them only as humorous. In the best case, I make the men looking at the photos reflect on their own position on the matter.”

The artist also has a personal reason for approaching the subject seriously.

Apahonchich walks around the Finnish Museum of Photography at the Cable Factory looking at the works of her colleagues in the Festival of Political Photography, which presents the work of twenty artists from around the world in a show entitled Potentiality.

In Apahonchich’s own images, men relax alongside “Relaxation for men” ads. One reads the newspaper, another plays on the train tracks, a third does yoga, and a fourth plays the balalaika.

A fifth man fishes.

According to the artist, the men who wanted into the project hardly represent the majority opinion regarding prostitution.

“Russia is still a conservative country and we have a different notion of women’s rights than in Scandinavia. It is common for men not to see any problem with prostitution. Many of them think it’s quite acceptable if, say, they have problems with their marriages.”

It is illegal in Russia to advertise sex services but, according to Apahonchich, Russian cities are in no hurry to get rid of the ads. She argues that the economic interests of the powers that be are often linked to human trafficking.

“It’s about money,” she says. “In Russia, the media have written about the links between corruption and prostitution. The police, for example, visit brothels regularly. They even have their own term for their visits. They are called ‘Saturday specials.'”

Her drastic claim is supported by a longitudinal interview study in which researchers mapped the experiences of sex workers with police in Petersburg and Orenburg. The study found that over a third of the sex workers had been abused by police.

The study was done in 2014, but researchers have obtained similar outcomes in more recent studies.

Estimates of the total number of people involved in sex work in Russia are as high as three million.

“I don’t approve of the word ‘sex worker,'” says Apahonchich. “In my opinion, it is not work but exploitation. I am talking about women who are involved in prostitution. Of course, there are differences in how people view the matter. If someone wants to call themselves a sex worker, I accept their choice, of course, but I don’t think of it that way.”

She also finds it misleading to talk about “sex.”

“Many girls go into prostitution at the age of thirteen or even younger. I think it is a question of rape culture more than of sex.”

darja-3Man and pillow. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich has a personal reason for regarding prostitution negatively. She earns her daily bready by teaching Russian to women who have come from Syria and Afghanistan, for example. She is painfully aware her students are at high risk of being marginalized and forced into prostitution.

“Since they come to Russia as refugees and immigrants, they are on really shaky ground. They are often undocumented and cannot defend themselves,” Apahonchich says, looking anxious.

She is clearly concerned about her students.

She has not shown her photographs in class.

“I try to keep politics to a minimum,” she says. “A large number of my students are from quite conservative regions and I don’t want to scare them. Also, some of the students’ husbands have a negative attitude to their going to school, so in this sense, too, caution is important.”

“So, I concentrate on teaching the language and I answer their questions.”

There is one subject, however, that Apahonchich plans to raise in class.

She wants to teach the women how to talk to the police.

darja-4A man relaxes by meditating. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for men. Although sex advertising has been moving to the Internet in Russia, the letters on the cobblestones still entice men into becoming customers.

Apahonchich’s own attitude to the advertisements has changed as she has photographed them.

“In the past, I would complain about them and think about all the young women they concealed. But after shooting them I saw them as locations and advertisements.  I would think that one was in a good spot for marketing or this one had really different colors, that I had no photos with yellow lettering in them. Or this image was in a good place for setting up and shooting.”

Another thing has changed. The photographer now knows what to say to men who fiercely defend prostitution.

“I ask them whether they would be willing to do the same job themselves or let their children do it. Since they don’t want it for their own children, why would they wish it on others?”

darja-5.JPGThe ads encouraging relaxation are also in English. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich recounts how one of the men in the photos heard a child ask his parents what the ad meant as the model sat waiting on the pavement.

It was no easy task for the parents to explain what the words meant.

Nor was it easy to tell the child why a price had been placed under a woman’s name.

Translated from the Finnish by the Russian Reader

 

Yulia Tsvetkova: Blues and Pinks

“He Threatened to Kill Us for Perverting Children”
A Feminist Staged a Children’s Play. She Has Been Accused of Extremism and Interrogated by Police
Larisa Zhukova
Lenta.ru
March 15, 2019

The police department in Komsomolsk-on-Amur has been investigating the work of feminist Yulia Tsvetkova, producer of the activist comedy theater Merak. The ostensible cause of the investigation is her production of a children’s play about gender stereotypes, Blues and Pinks, which the people who denounced Tsvetkova to the police regarded as promotion of homosexual relations among minors. The suspicions of the authorities have also been piqued by the anti-militarist dance productions Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition and Prague Spring, and the VK community page Komsomolka. Lenta.ru recorded Tsvetkova’s account of why regional activists have grown accustomed to threats of real violence and how the local extremism prevention center (Center “E”) inspects children’s dances and drawings.

“Are You Against the Soviet Union?”
Everyone who has known us for a long time agrees that something completely insane has been happening. We have pupils who have been working with us for almost sixteen years, starting with my mom’s early development workshop.

Our theater is me, the actors, and my mom, our manager. We are a tiny theater company in a really small city and the only young people’s theater of its kind. We are not a classic theater company, but a horizontal (egalitarian) and activist theater. We highlight societal problems and look for ways of solving them. We established the theater a year ago. We decided to call it Merak, with the stress on the first syllable. In Serbian, mérak means a buzz, a high, life’s little pleasures.

The actors are twenty-one children aged six and up. They write poems, contribute to the scripts, build scenery, and choreograph the dance numbers. As director, I supply the overall outline, but then I leave the creativity to them. How do you feel in this scene? I ask them. What should it be like? How should the dialogue sound? What words would  you use to say that? How would you dance it? Some find it odd I deal with children as equals, but I believe it has to be this way. We use improvisation, forum theater, gags, and free dance.

Everything was fine until February, until we decided to stage four danced-based plays, which we had been rehearsing for six months. Two plays are staged one day, while the other two plays are staged the next day. We came up with the idea of calling them a festival by way of combining them. It would have been the first activist art festival in the region. A week before the first performance we got a phone call from city hall. The next day, the Youth Center, a venue we had already confirmed, told us they were booked up on the dates we needed, and there were no openings for the next six months.

The telephone conversation with city hall lasted over an our. City officials went over our poster point by point. Why was our play called Blues and Pinks? We wrote, “We can do it again”: were we against the Soviet Union or something? We were asked what we meant by the word “individual.” Obviously, there was something about what we were doing they didn’t like. We also suddenly got the cold shoulder at other venues.

pic_08ab34d1a9a5f76eb7ff4c96411bec73Detail of a poster for The Color of Saffron Festival of Activist Art. The inscription reads “We can do it again. We can ban it!” 

After the news that the festival had been shut down was published, city hall called us and said we had misunderstood them. Actually, they supported our undertaking. They invited us to a meeting at which they made it understood that if we denied the news reports, they would help us find a venue. Since I don’t like having my arm twisted, and I didn’t think I had done anything wrong by talking about the connection between their first phone call and the sudden refusals to give us a venue, I was not about to refute any of the reports. That was when they interrogated the kids.

“The Kids Are Feared like Terrible Dissidents”
To be honest, I thought we would be called on the carpet for our anti-militarist production Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition. It is a translation of a song by Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down. He often voices his opposition to war and the arms industry. The big dance number in the play is set to his song. It’s an urgent problem for us, because all the boys who attend our workshop, which has been functioning for over twenty years, try to smuggle in toy pistols at first. But we have a ban on weapons, even toy weapons. Why? We are trying to make sense of things. During the big dance number, one dancer acquires a “pistol.” Then another gets one, too, as a means of defense. A third dance gets hold of a machine gun, and the atmosphere heats up. It is satirical and exaggerated, of course, but it is a quite dramatic play as well.

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Merak Theater’s poster for its four-play, two-day festival, The Color of Saffron. Originally scheduled for March 16 and 17, it was to have featured (in descending order) Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Spring [sic], Untouchables, and Blues and Pinks

But when we came up with the play, the shooting at the college in Kerch occurred. The kids were scared: the shooting affected them greatly. We talked a lot about what they thought about the incident and how it could have been avoided. No one at school discussed the incident with the children at all, although it should be said adults generally avoid discussing really important things with teenagers. The kids came up with the play’s finale on their own: it showed how the situation could have been avoided.

Prague Spring is a production based on Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. We pay homage to Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography and Maurice Béjart’s 1955 choreography, using music by John Cage. Coincidentally, I got the idea during the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops: the two “springs” came together in my mind around the subject of human rights and resisting oppression. It’s a simple, obvious subject, but when you grow up in a small city like Komsomolsk, it can seem quite remote and forbidden. But this is just what I read into it, inner thoughts not meant for viewers. The kids simply dance spring. That’s it. Six-year-olds hop up and down and run around in circles, making up half of it as they go along.

Our fifteen-minute play Untouchables focuses on bullying at school and kindergarten. A lot of what the kids told us themselves about their own experiences went into the play. The more we talk things through, the easier it is for them to deal with them.

pic_eda40eabbbb3ba6a6ff95708693a0148Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

Blues and Pinks is a play that illustrates stereotypes about girls and boys. According to the script, we run through the list of clichés: girls like pink, boys like blue; boys are messy, girls clean up after them; boy are defenders and warriors and shouldn’t cry, while girls are future mothers who dream only of getting married; girls and boys can never understand each other. This is presented on stage as a lighthearted dance. We try and show the notion that if a boy pulls your pigtail, it means he likes you is a step away from the idea that if a man beats a woman he must love her.

We continue by suggesting a solution. One of the boys dances, releasing his pent-up feelings as it were. The other boys follow his example, realizing that, whether they dance or not, it does not make any more or less guys. The girls share their dreams. One of them wants to be a businesswoman, while another wants to be a director. They recite the names of great women: the first woman to climb Everest, the first woman to win an Oscar, and so on.

Sophisticated audiences in the western half of Russia would probably find it quite naive, but in our city it is timely and relevant. For example, the other day, a local radio presenter, Tatyana Zhemerenetskaya, announced she planned to run for mayor. She was fired: her bosses were outraged by her excessively “unfeminine ambitions.” Women are supposed to stay home and make soup. In the final scene of our play, the kids say they are individuals. They have dreams and passions.

The funny thing is I didn’t even think about the connotation of the play’s title, which the police caught. One of our pupils came up with it. I have hung out with female LGBT activists, and none of them ever call themselves “blues” or “pinks.” They are just colors to me. Honestly, if I had had doubts, I would not have bothered using the words in the title.

Our actors are between six and seventeen, but the authorities fear us as if we were terrible dissidents. Miraculously, we found a woman interested in contemporary young people’s theater who was not afraid to provide us with a venue. We intend to hold the festival there as planned, on March 16 and 17. But we have nowhere to seat viewers: we cannot find people who will give us chairs. One person said yes, but later he was scared off, apparently.

“She Drew the Rainbow of Her Own Free Will”
The policewoman who came to my office could not say out loud the reason for the investigation. The complaint read that we were promoting homosexuality among minors. She showed me the complaint and blushed.

During my interrogation, I was told I was at the local department for extremism and terrorism prevention (Center “E”). Three complaints had been filed against me: for promoting homosexual relations among minors, for inciting hatred towards men, and for “extremism,” I think.

The interrogation lasted nearly four hours.

First, the officers gave me screenshots of various posts and photos from my personal social media page and the community page Dandelion Field, where I write about really simple things like contraception, HIV, and condoms, things that, unfortunately, not all teenagers know about. There was also stuff from Komsomolka, which deals with feminism. By the way, there I don’t write at all about men: it’s a community page about women.

One of the screenshots showed a workshop from last year at which a girl had drawn a picture, and there was a rainbow in her picture. I was forced to write two paragraphs explains that my underage female pupil had drawn the rainbow of her own free will. No one had pressured and coerced her to draw it.

Next, we got hung up on the phrase “gender stereotypes.” The police officer thought gender had something to do with transgenders. I explained to him what gender stereotypes were, what I meant by the term, and gave examples of stereotypes, as if I were sitting for an exam at school.

Then I was shown a screenshot of a post in which I had negatively assessed the “gay propaganda law,” and I had described the persecution of the lesbians in Chechnya and the “corrective” rapes to which they had been subjected.

The detective asked whether I engaged in propaganda. He asked was sex education was, and who needed it and why. He asked what feminism was. He asked what intersectional feminism was. Ultimately, I had to describe to him how I imagined traditional family values, what I thought about families. I wrote that I wasn’t against traditional family values like love, acceptance, and warmth. This ridiculous testimony took up four pages.

This was followed by the persecution of our children and personal attacks on them. There is no other way of putting it.

“The Police Have Come for You. Let’s Go”
The police officers running the investigation are clueless about the questions they have been asking, and this incompetence has only exacerbated the circumstances.

On March 10, they came for one of boys and one of our girls. It is not clear why they were chosen. There are seventeen teenagers in our theater, and they attend different schools. The police did not pick on our oldest and youngest pupils.

The 15-year-old girl was summoned after school from her house and grilled for two hours by five adults: two police officers and three female school employees. They put the screws on her and descended into semi-insults. They quizzed her about LGBT. Did she know what it meant? they asked. How had she found out? Was I promoting homosexuality? Did I encourage girls to sleep with girls, and boys with boys? The subjects they discussed were such that they would have earned an 18+ rating, but the interrogation took place without the girl’s parents present.

pic_7bc908930662b55a0cdbabb1976b5037Photo from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

The 13-year-old boy was kept after school. He was summoned to the headmaster’s office. “The police have come for you. Let’s go,” he was told. No one had the presence of mind to call his parents. The police officers showed him the likes I had awarded a post I no longer remembered, but they were showing this to a child! The absurdity was off the charts. They asked the boy and the girl about each other. Maybe they had picked the through the list of  numbers in their telephones.

When, the next day, they came for another of our boys, we warned him to call his parents immediately. He called his dad, who works as a beat cop, so he was not grilled for two hours, but twenty minutes, and the conversation was more polite and less biased.

Everyone is scared. Naturally, it is frightening when you’re interrogated for two hours. For now, no one wants to quit the theater, because everyone is aware of my work. They know I am opposed to violence, and I treat boys and girls equally. But, first of all, the subject itself scares the kids, because they are still kids and not tuned into all these issues. Second, they feel the pressure: they are afraid to say something wrong and inadvertently throw me under the bus.

Their parents and I have now been trying to understand the legal grounds of why we have been persecuted. We have been poring over the laws.

“Rewind to Fifty Years Ago”
Until recently, everyone really loved our theater and told us how cool we were. We did two productions wholly in English about the history of the English language, which were unprecedented in our city. At the Drama Theater, we did a dance performance about the problems of teenagers entitled Evolution. It was about how society puts pressure on carefree kids, but ultimately their friends help them and their problems are solved. This was all performed to poems written by one of the girls involved in the production. The show was a benefit for disabled children and the local organization Lighthouse of Hope. Not a bad track record for a single year!

Children grow up, and the problems they face get more complicated. First of all, they deal with domestic violence. I have had whole black months when it was one story after another, and I cried because I felt so helpless. It’s really scary: dad’s beating mom, dad’s beating me, dad’s beating my brother. Gender stereotypes are also something our kids deal with up close and personal. My fifteen-year-old female pupils are already pestered now with questions of when they are getting married and having kids, and why they should bother with careers. Homophobia is also a force. I know there are LGBT teenagers out there, and I cannot imagine how hard it is for them to cope alone. The streets in Komsomolsk are a really dangerous place, just as in most typical provincial towns, I would guess.

Komsomolsk is one half a factory town, and one half a gangster town. When you hear about us, rewind to fifty years ago. It is not the twenty-first century here, but the twentieth century. I think what really spooked the police was that I had been talking about activism and feminism. These words scare people.

Our local feminist community consists of two volunteers and me. I have an audience of a thousand some subscribers on our community page, but between two and twenty people in Komsomolsk itself. That is the number of people who come to our events. Unfortunately, that is our audience for the time being. It is a infantile scale.

But there have always been plenty of haters. When I decided to do a lecture on abuse, there were threats: we will come and show you what real violence is like, I was warned. Instead, a group of women showed up who sabotaged the lecture by insisting victims had only themselves to blame or something of the sort.

Even our women’s tea party was disrupted. We wanted to make it women-only, without men, so we could talk about our problems. Men wrote to us that they would come and show us what feminism was. There were so many threats that even the young women themselves got scared, along with the venue where we had scheduled the tea party. They asked us not to come.

I have stopped responding to death threats. Now, as we have been chatting, I have received three messages from a young man. The only word in the messages you can print is the word “you.” Yesterday, a man wrote on the community page of our theater workshop threatening to kill us for “perverting children.” This the general background.

After I was interrogated for four hours by the police about feminism and sex education, I felt I had a claim to the hashtag #FeminismIsNotExtremism. Six months ago, I would insert in posts in connection with the case of Lyubov Kalugina, when I was not even remotely in harm’s way. It is one thing to read about persecuted activists, but it is another thing to become one of them. People keep asking why I do it. What is the point?  My run-in with the police makes me think hard about the kind of country we live in. But I can name at least twenty-one people for whom what I do is not pointless. I can name even more people, actually.

pic_55145f4a6ff0238f1689b54bfaa9dccbPhoto from the Merak Activist Comedy Theater’s page on VK 

What scares me most is the kids think they did something wrong. I ask them, You believe in what we do? Yes, they reply. Do you see anything bad about it? No, they answer. But the whole situation puts them under psychological pressure. It is a really terrible precedent, because the kids have been rapped on the knuckles as it were. They really work their butts off staging our plays. They invest a tremendous amount of energy in them. They are sincerely looking for ways to change the world for the better. These kids are really delicate and sensitive, and they are close to each other as group. They volunteer their time, they visit orphanages, they support other social projects. They are totally maxed out: they try and get straight A’s at school, and they are involved in academic competitions. In the midst of all their activities, they manage to come to four-hour-long, physically draining rehearsals.

But then adults tell them activism is bad, activism is evil, without even fully understand what activism is. And when these adults show up a week before our festival and tell us to get lost, both the kids and I are stressed out. They are really worried.

I have not slept or eaten for three days. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been summoned again to the extremism prevention department. The phone is tapped, and calls with my lawyer are cut off. But I dream of opening a women’s crisis center in our city and an alternative independent school where the children would be not be bullied and hounded, and continuing to move the theater forward. In late spring, we are doing a production based on Svetlana Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses, about children during the Second World War, and in the summer we are staging a new English-language production.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader.

UPDATE. DVHab.ru reports that, despite the fact the local authorities ostensibly canceled Merak Theater’s Color of Saffron Festival, the festival went ahead way anyway at “closed” venues. DVHab.ru included a full video of Merak’s performance of Blues and Pinks in its article. I have reproduced it below.

How Petersburg Celebrated International Women’s Day 2019

Feminists Explain
YouTube
March 9, 2019

March 8, 2019, was probably the most well-attended feminist rally of the twenty-first century in St. Petersburg.

The rally was attended by a variety of feminists, including socialists, Marxists, liberals, lesbian separatists, and queer feminists.

We made a montage of the speeches, chants, and songs for everyone who lives in other cities or could not attend the rally, as well as those who were with us on Lenin Square and want to remember the day’s highlights.

Shot and edited by Varya Mikhaylova. Thanks to her for the heads-up. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

Cannon Fodder for the Fatherland

voenkomat“Give birth to meat!” Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Activatica

In Petersburg, Feminists Bring Meat Disguised as Infants to Draft Board
Activatica
February 23, 2019

Feminists in Petersburg have carried out an anti-war protest. They brought bundles meant to look like suckling babies to the Military Commissariat for Leningrad Region. The bundles were tied with St. George’s Ribbons and khaki-colored ribbons. The bundles were filled with ground meat.

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“Feminists brought infants to the military commissariat, although there was raw meat in the bundles instead. ‘Women are forced to bear meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to the coercion of women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war,'” wrote photographer David Frenkel on Twitter, apparently communicating the message of the women who organized the protest.

Later, the well-known feminist activist Leda Garina published a post about the protest containing a slightly modified (updated) communique from the feminists

“Women are called upon to have children even as the right to abortions is threatened. But what happens to our children? They serve as cannon food for Russian militarism. They are turned into corpses in the senseless wars Russia has unleashed. Woman are forced to bear the meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to coercion against women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war.”

Garina also noted the protest had been carried out by “unknown feminists.”

Yesterday, February 23, Fatherland Defenders Day was celebrated in Russia. Women are expected to congratulate men for “defending the Fatherland,” although they have done nothing of the sort for nearly seventy-five years. In Soviet times, the holiday was celebrated as Red Army Day. Translated by the Russian Reader

Lidya Blinova: The Learned Pussycat

LIDYA BLINOVA (1948–1996)
The Learned Pussycat

Prologue
The wind whipped the atmosphere.
Clouds coursed without fear.
The moon in its seething frills
Ascended over the hills.
The earth poured towards it:
Villages, fields, and hamlets.
A dark forest nodded from vast plains
To heaven’s chatelaine.
And everything sublunar under the moon
Rose higher and aloft:
The waves and the land,
A cat on a roof and its thoughts,
And, deep below the waves, the sand.

After buzzing out the day like combs,
The ancient city slumbered: the moon’s
Mead trickled towards the mountain’s foot.
Parades, promenades, and fêtes
Raged here a century ago,
But now the ruins slept in rows.

The overgrown gardens were bothered
Only by the water’s patter.
The stream’s angelic tone
Resounded where the water’s flow
Was dammed by fallen leaves.
What emptiness and peace!

But what did we see?
In a window a candle was burning,
And the candle revealed
A pussycat purring.

A tizzy swept over the old garden.
Doors were slammed, footsteps cascaded.
And, quite as black as a roach,
Into the light’s triangle crept a coach.

1.
The learned pussycat, dismayed and aggrieved,
Leapt into the carriage, shouting “To the sea!”
A dog dolefully howled in the park.
A sinister coachman emerged from the dark,
An amulet glinting and melting under his cape.
The moon went pale, giving chase.
Raving, the steeds thundered, frothing at the mouth.
The uneven pursuit made the moon catch its breath.
Over rooftops, twixt chimneys, through poplar fleece,
It rushed to the place beyond the fields
Where the sea stood like a living wall.

And the pussycat in the coach?
She was crazed, she was ill.
What thought could she give to the coachman?
What matter to her was the moon’s will?

For every piece of iron in the womblike contraption
The patter of hooves smashed into fractions.
The pussycat imagined that, through flint and dirt,
Alongside her, Achilles roared, and the turtle crept.

Oh, the running in place, the maundering
Of things moving motionlessly toward their mark!

2.
Oh, the trellised mirrors of old aporias!
And the sea came ever closer, the cherished sea!
Every jolt and pothole on the highway
Sent the pussycat higher into the sky,
As if yeast were stirred into things at creation
By someone quite batty about expansion.

3.
Madness’s abyss beckoned to the pussycat.
Panting, the moon whispered, “Drat!
All we needed was for the pussycat to flip!”
It was so angry it slipped,
And, suddenly, it dropped into the coach
Out of the empyrean like ice hurtling off a roof.

The straps and traces were lost in a blink,
The horses speeding off down the stony brink.
The driver melted into thin air,
And his passengers missed dying by a hair,
As his chariot fell to pieces.
The pussycat and the moon sat on the beach.

4.
It is a pity their important chat
Has come down to us in bits and scraps.
“There is a gazillion . . .
Issues of logic.”
“But there is a gamut.”
“Then what is it?
Philosophizing like Hamlet?
No, Buridan . . .”
“I’ve been harping on that for ages.
We’re again walking on bodies . . .”
“The unthinkable . . .” “ . . . cat sausage
turned into the coveted puss in booties.”
“Uniqueness seduces you.”
“And what is your métier?”
“Everyone needs a milieu:
Water is my cup of tea.”

5.
Then the breeze blew in our direction,
Making audible their conversation.

“Listen, I’ve seen your face before.
I remember: it was on the roof next door.
You often peered through the dusty lunette
Into chambers I no longer rent.

“With a gaze now joyful, now sad, you kept watch
Over all the ups and downs in the masterwork
That consumed me then from paws to ears.
But it seems as if years,
No, as if centuries have passed since that time,
And suddenly I peer so closely into your eyes.
Oh, what happened? Where we were rushing?
We are mixed up in a terrible muddle!”

“Take courage, take courage, you have friends,
And I dare to rank myself among them.
Let it be known that for a long time
A gilded palace to you has been assigned.
The best pencils have been carefully whetted,
Shelves stacked with books, and lantern lighted.
And out the window what expanses you shall see.”

The pussycat cried, “Where is it? Who did this for me?”

Then the moon, which burned like copper,
Ebbed and faded with a mutter.
It waned so fast, in a thrice,
Its shape resembled a melon slice.
Masts and rigging went up in a jig.
What was left of the thing—
A barely visible ashy oblong—
Burrowed into storm clouds and was gone.
Everyone was forced to feign
It was the face of the moon.

6.
The moon summoned a wave to its side.
The wave lifted the moon up high.
And so between heaven and earth
The little ship hung in mid-air,
As on a tinted postal card.
Grabbing her things from the strand,
The pussycat boarded the bark,
Whispering “Adieu” to the sixth part.

7.
Wisps of phosphoric foam sputtered.
Selene’s new horns glittered,
And with his burning saucers Argus scowled
At the enraptured striped pussycat’s tail.
The first opera’s chimera was born in the pussycat.
There was applause in the stalls, noises in the pit.
The storm clouds rose, opening an entrance
In which the sea sighed like an audience.
Her body filled with an invisible force,
The universe subsided, and the pussycat held forth.
Song’s primordial magical vigor
Reawakened in the fish their ardor.
The starry sky got goosebumps,
And the bowels of the earth rumbled.
…………………………………………..…………………..
…………………………………………..…………………..

8.
By morning, the sea tour was over.
The elements were entrusted with new roles.
The one who came for the cat in the darkness
Had to go looking for the overheated horses.

9.
The tide rolled out, and towards the sea
The grass bent sadly in the estuary.
In the fog, the sandbanks and islands
Altered their outlines.

And then a prickly eyelid opened a bit
Over a gloomy ridge of distant foothills.
Here man and stone conspired ever harder,
Establishing their power over the water.
Battlements and bends were sharper than the shore,
And the sand gave way to the granite.
Farther down, the fog hardened into boulders.
Like crystals, the light they beamed cut.

The golden bark hastened to take
Сover in a tangle of dark channels.
And the passenger? She dreamt of taking
A bath and setting foot on dry land.

10.
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
………………………………………….…………………..
……………………………………………………………..

……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
……………………………………………………………..
…………………………………….………………….. But

The incident was settled with sanity
By the guard, who saluted the cat,
And the porter, who grabbed her tote,
sac de voyage, and the case with her vanity.

The heavy door cut off, like a tail,
The mutters and shouts of the crowd,
The stone bridge, ready to fail,
And the sinister hugger-mugger of the town.

She climbed a steep cascade,
Then walked down the hall to her rooms.
If you such a voyage had made
You’d be glad of an old cozy home.

The End

Courtesy of the estate of Lidya Blinova and Focus Kazakhstan, National Museum of Kazakhstan. Translated by the Russian Reader

___________________________________

“The Learned Pussycat” and other works by Lidya Blinova will be featured in Focus Kazakhstan: Bread and Roses, an exhibition of four generations of Kazakh women artists organized by MOMENTUM in partnership with the National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan that will run from September 25 to October 20, 2018, at Studio 1 in the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.

The show comprises work in a wide-range of media by twenty artists created from 1945 to the present. Emerging Kazakh women artists are prefaced in the show by a group of eminent forerunners who have remained more or less invisible within the history of Soviet, Kazakh, and world art. Against the tumult of Stalinist repression and its aftermath, the work of these women has forged a bridge between traditional Kazakh arts, crafts and ways of living, the Soviet avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s, socialist realism, and a completely new approach to art making that emerged in the early the 1980s. The works that these great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of contemporary Kazakh art have produced reflect the melting pot of ideas and influences between east and west arising from Kazakhstan’s history of tumultuous political and social change. Bread and Rosestakes place in parallel with the Focus Kazakhstan Artist Residency Exhibition at the MOMENTUM Gallery, also in the Kunstquartier Bethanien.

Poster_Version 3_web

Lidya Blinova’s parents both worked as architects, her grandfather was a priest and mystic. She graduated from the Architecture and Construction Institute in Alma-Ata, and her subsequent work encompassed architecture, art, poetry, sculpture, jewelry, book design, acting, and cinema. By inclination she was a radical. She jointly developed ideas with her husband, Rustam Khalfin, who described her as his “alter ego,” and whom she first met in 1962, at the age of fourteen, in the graphic art studio at Alma-Ata’s Palace of Pioneers. Khalfin’s idea of the pulota, a keyhole into a fragmented world of space, time, and image, originated with Blinova. Formed by the simple gesture of folding a fist and looking through the hole in its middle, it created what she described as the “ultimate plastic object,” replete, at the same time, with fullness and emptiness.

Blinova first began to make wooden sculpture in the studio of Isaak Itkind, a primitivist and friend of Marc Chagall who had been imprisoned in Kazakhstan. and also worked for film director Sergei Bodrov on The Stunned Apostle, for which Pavel Zaltsman, a close associate of Pavel Filonov who had also been interned in Kazakhstan, was production designer. For Bodrov’s second film The Unprofessionals (1985), Blinova worked as costume designer. A polymath, she also made puppet shows for children and experimented on small sculptural forms for jewelry.

During the 1970s, she both organized and was a participant in the private apartment art exhibitions in Alma-Ata that showed autonomous works by pupils of Vladimir Sterligov. Almost the whole group, including Khalfin, had been previously educated as architects. In 1995, she designed a series of catalogues on contemporary Kazakh artists for the Soros Foundation in Almaty and presented her installation Poem for a Cat at the Kokserek Gallery, which also published the eponymous book. In 2011, her work was posthumously represented in the exhibition Between the Past and the Future: Minus 20. The Archeology of Relevance, at the Kasteyev Art Museum in Almaty.

Source: MOMENTUM