Victoria Lomasko documents the side of Russian life the authorities would rather no one noticed. In one typical black and white drawing, a sex worker takes a drag on her cigarette and says: “Some clients ask us to piss on them. But I’d be happy to shit on them, on behalf of all women.” At first, Lomasko drew for herself and her friends. Now, her work is internationally acclaimed. Her first book, Forbidden Art, written with Anton Nikolaev, won Russia’s prestigious Kandinsky prize, but she has only really become known abroad since the publication last year of Other Russias. It’s a brutal, darkly funny collection of drawings of sex workers in Nizhny Novgorod, slaves in Moscow, schoolchildren in desolate villages, as well as LGBT activistsand ultra-nationalists. When she toured the US last year, the New Yorker described her as “listening to ordinary Russians by drawing them one by one”, from God-fearing old ladies to young skinheads and striking truckers.
Lomasko has just flown in from Moscow for a series of events at London’s Pushkin House, including the installation of an exhibition called On the Eve, a reference to what she calls “massive changes to come” and a nod to Ivan Turgenev’s novel of the same name (she also jokes about the country being “on the eve of Putin’s re-election”). It will feature drawings from Other Russias and a new purpose-built mural, as well as work never before seen outside Russia – and some never seen inside Russia either. Her work is not officially censored at home, she explains, although it might as well be. “It’s the same as in the Soviet period,” she says. “You don’t get arrested or interrogated. Just no curators or gallery owners want to work with you. It is like a little death of sorts, for any artist. My work does come out in Russia, but only on alternative websites that have a liberal audience in St Petersburg or Moscow. Anything more serious or more mainstream, it’s not possible.” Before the elections in 2012, things were easier, she adds. Since then, she feels the difference.
While Lomasko likes to look at the big picture, she is equally interested in everyday concerns, one current obsession being the housing situation in Moscow, in particular the 4,500 apartment buildings (including hers) that are earmarked for demolition, with plans to relocate up to 1.6 million residents. “They want to move people to worse areas, places with no infrastructure,” she sighs. “It’s internal deportation. And the residents are supposed to argue it out among themselves. Who’s for, who’s against. It’s a miniature civil war.”
Although she now lives in Moscow, she identifies strongly with Russians from outside the capital. “I was born in Serpukhov, a town 100km south of Moscow. I didn’t know anything about modern art or cinema. Everything just passed us by. The most important thing was who was getting married and when.” It’s clear from her expression that this was unimportant to her. Now 39, she enjoys the freedom of being single and child-free, taking long trips across the former Soviet Union. Her latest took her to the predominantly Islamic parts of Dagestan, to document women’s attitudes towards religion… read more: