Vinzavod, a former wine factory in central Moscow, has been transformed into a space for contemporary art.
In this relaxed place that attracts a youthful crowd, it can be easy to forget the gloomy political mood in Russia and the continuing Kremlin crackdown on opposition voices.
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But the latest multimedia exhibition by artist Katya Muromtseva, which opened last month, ensures that anti-Kremlin voices are heard.
The 31-year-old artist uses his works to draw attention to the rise in arrests of opposition activists and forced closures of independent media.
“This show is based on interviews I have done with people of my generation,” Muromtseva said.
Upon entering the exhibition, viewers are immediately struck by the huge mural covering three tall white walls.
The mural is made up of cut black lines in which the shapes of riot police and demonstrators emerge. The images evoke the mass demonstrations that erupted in the Russian capital earlier this year against the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
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On the fourth wall, a series of blood-red paintings are covered with similar designs.
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Muromtseva said that the paintings “are not comfortable” because “the time we are living in – it is not comfortable”.
Under the wall art, five iPad screens display the text of the interviews Muromtseva collected, which focus on moments of political awakening.
One person he spoke to volunteered to work as an election monitor, only to see the ballot boxes filled.
Another was a student who began traveling around Europe in 2014 and witnessed the outrage over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
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A third interview is with a man who used to sneak away from his wife at night to write anti-Kremlin slogans around town.
“Many people think we can’t change anything. This is the government, they have the power. … But it’s not true. “
“Many people think we can’t change anything. This is the government, they have the power, “Muromtseva said.” But that’s not true. “
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The “fearless generation” of Russia
Muromtseva is part of a generation that worries the Kremlin. People his age tend to be more openly opposed to Putin than the older generations.
They also tend to receive news online, rather than from tightly controlled state media.
“How can we trust the news? Because it’s like we’re at the point where all the news is written by the state, “he said.
“So, for me, this is the new version of the news, how it can be written. You can only write with these very particular, very individual emotional stories ”.
Muromtseva describes herself as a “socially engaged” artist rather than a political artist.
Previous projects include a video work based on interviews with children about what they imagine life in the Soviet Union was like. He has also worked with older people to redecorate nursing homes.
Muromtseva is not the only Russian artist dealing with political issues, but her combination of art, social engagement and journalism is unusual.
It is also potentially dangerous.
In recent months, authorities have arrested members of Pussy Riot, the performing arts group. The police stopped the performances of an independent theater company called Teatr.doc. And another young artist from the Russian Far East, Yulia Tsvetkova, is also facing ongoing criminal charges because of her work.
Muromtseva said several guests at the opening of the exhibition had expressed concern for her safety, due to the state’s “open criticism” in interviews.
He understands the concern and admits that this is a difficult time for artists.
“But on the other hand, I think it’s very fruitful for artists to have this kind of tension, because your voice really matters,” he said.
Not everyone shares Muromtseva’s optimistic outlook.
Sergei Khripun, the co-owner of the XL Gallery inside Vinzavod, where the exhibition runs until the middle of next month, said he doesn’t “see a future the way Katya probably sees it.”
Khripun, who is part of an older generation, has already seen many protest movements, including the one that brought down the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Khripun admires Muromtseva’s art, but is critical of interviews.
“I see these are young. It’s their hopes, it’s their frustrations, whatever. Well, let’s see, if you consider asking him five or 10 years later. “
“They are quite naive, I would say… I see that these are young. It’s their hopes, it’s their frustrations, whatever. Well, let’s see, if you consider asking him five or 10 years later. “
Muromtseva is convinced that real change can come. She recently worked with Russian teenagers and this gave her hope.
“[Teenagers are] so open and fearless and are very politically committed and are really aware of what is happening in our country. They are the future and we are the future “.
“They are so open and fearless and they are very politically committed and they are really aware of what is happening in our country. They are the future and we are the future “.
Russia will hold parliamentary elections in the fall, which the Kremlin-backed United Russia party is almost certain to win despite its waning popularity.
With the opposition ousted from politics, it remains to be seen how Muromtseva’s “fearless generation” will make itself heard.