The art of protest
Political and social protest graffiti has been moved from the street to an indoor art exhibition at Etagi.
Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)
When people feel their freedom of speech is limited, and what they are fed by the media is often pure propaganda or mere informational noise serving to distract their attention from pressing issues, they start to express themselves on the streets, be it through rallies or political graffiti.
An exhibition titled “Voice of the Streets” that opened last month at Loft Project Etagi, an arts center located in a former bread factory, documents the current state of the messages expressed on city walls in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities, ranging from anarchist and left-wing to feminist and pacifist.
Although a number of the exhibits seem apolitical, most represent direct forms of political and social protest.
Surprisingly, the exhibition’s organizer, PublicPost, has links to both the authorities and liberals.
PublicPost is a website created in November 2011 by the Russian state bank Sberbank, news agency Interfax and Alexei Venediktov, editor of Ekho Moskvy radio station, which enjoys a reputation as a liberal station. The website combines blogs and professional journalism, according to Interfax.
Venediktov was quoted as saying that “very diverse social and political figures will be able to discuss the fate of Russia freely” on the website.
The works for the exhibition were picked by Stanislav Reshetnyov, who works at PublicPost as a programmer in Moscow, and Alexandra Kachko, a local artist known for her paper graffiti, frequently featuring a memorable female character named Zoa.
“Usually they [PublicPost] go to different cities and support things that are already happening there, but here Stas [Stanislav] suggested that they should organize something of their own,” Kachko said.
“Of course, nobody [at PublicPost] had any idea what street art was. But thanks to them, the local offices of Interfax gave us a room in which to draw and prepare the exhibition, and we got this room at Etagi for free, even if we were forbidden to make any extra holes in the walls.”
For the first time in St. Petersburg, art was collected directly from the streets in the form of photos and reprints. According to the curators, the only selection criteria were that the works should have a clear message and express a plea for dialog.
The organizers have not divided the works according to ideology or movement, so “Voice of the Streets” reproduces the world of Russian street art, in which non-political graffiti sits side by side with radical mottoes, and well-known artists are displayed alongside amateurs, they said.
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