The image of a dead man with his hands tied to the ground in the Ukrainian town of Bukha has become a horrific symbol of the Russian war. He was photographed covered in blood, wearing jeans, sneakers and a brown hooded jacket, with his hands bound with white cloth.
A few days after that photo went viral, the same figure reappeared all over Moscow, with an unknown performance artist photographing himself lying on the ground with his hands tied in front of the city’s most famous landmark, He called it a street art protest Moscow-Bukha.
Like him, hundreds of Russian artists took to the streets to paint anti-war graffiti in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Tver, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod and more. Many of them were hunted down and arrested, but some got away with it. Today, in an old half-demolition building in the center of Nizhny Novgorod, lies a naked mannequin covered in fake blood. The word “Gruz” is written on the back, a reference to the code of Russian soldiers killed in action. Graffiti above the mannequin reads: “Stop the war.”
The famous Russian architect Sergei Sittar hoisted a 10-meter-long Ukrainian flag with the word “Freedom” painted on it. the truth. Peace. on the Crimea Bridge in central Moscow last month. He was later sentenced to 15 days in prison by a Moscow court for protesting. Another street artist known as the Blue Pencil drew on a wall in Nizhny Novgorod A few words: “The power is real. It is banned within the Russian Federation,” it reads. Nearby, he drew a black rectangle similar to censored text ending in an exclamation point. “Russian authorities, because they don’t change what is already rotten, they have turned Russia into a totalitarian state. Country,” the Blue Pencil artist told The Daily Beast in an interview.
The tradition of political street art is deeply rooted in Russia. Back in 1976, Yuliy Rybakov, the first nonconformist artist in the Soviet Union, and his friends painted a 40-meter-long statement on the wall of the Peter and Paul Fortress in Leningrad, which read: “You crucified freedom. , but the human soul knows no bondage!”
Today, Russian artists stand with Ukraine, and despite efforts to quell their protests, more anti-war art keeps appearing on the walls of Russian cities in a country where nearly all opposition to the Kremlin has been suppressed. Street art is still one of the only places where it can be freely expressed.
Earlier this month, a young St. Petersburg artist, Zhenya Isayeva, followed Rybakov’s example. She wore a pale white dress and had red paint on her body in protest of the bloodshed in Ukraine. “My heart is bleeding!” she shouted from the steps of a historic building in the center of Nevsky Prospect until police detained her and the court sentenced her to eight days in prison.
“We see a lot of anti-war artists and poets in Russia today because there is no free media to express the fear people feel,” Galina Artemenko, an art observer from St. Petersburg, told The Daily Beast. “Isaieva is a serious artist from a family of artists who has lived in St. Petersburg for 200 years and follows a long tradition of political art protest.”
Almost every day, Russian street art expert Anna Nistratova discovers new anti-war murals on the walls of Nizhny Novgorod. “Young street artists were frustrated and angry, and their statements on the walls were almost therapeutic to many who disagreed with what was going on,” Nistratova told The Daily Beast. “People were walking along a giant wall, saw a little ‘stop the war’ graffiti and realised they were not alone.”
Internationally renowned Russian contemporary artist Pavel Otdelnov has recently created a series of snow-themed paintings titled Proving Ground. Snow is a Russian folk symbol of death.One of his paintings, called geopolitical, depicting President Vladimir Putin’s head sticking out of a snow-covered field. “It’s an image of a man who controls a large swathe of land, but he’s completely alone, half-buried in the snow,” Odnov told The Daily Beast. “I’ve never been so sad, I can’t find a place for me, so I try to paint so that I don’t fall into depression,” Otnov said.
Other Russian artists, such as the “Dead Party” group, are turning to more direct forms of protest. Last month, they gathered at a cemetery in Moscow, wearing skull masks and holding banners marking Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. Their protests were seen as a challenge to Russian propaganda, a lack of information about the war and Kremlin officials’ questionable death toll in reporting Russian casualties. “It’s the age of artistic activism, the age of direct statement, like the recent Necronomicon show,” Odnov told The Daily Beast.
At a time when Russians are being arrested just for reciting classical poems with the word “war” in Russian public squares, the artists need a lot of courage to stand up against Putin’s increasingly repressive regime.
“Some artists see war as a challenge, a time when we need an artistic approach in an urban setting,” Blue Pencil told The Daily Beast. “As a street artist, I try to say that wars and murders should stop now on Ukrainian soil, I try to find [a way] to describe the horror of war. “