Gorodetsky’s Masterpieces

I have become fascinated with architecture here lately.  My love for architecture grew particularly after I studied in St. Petersburg, Russia, and then revisited my beloved Kiev in Ukraine. On one of the beautiful nights that I spent in Kiev with my family I was introduced to an unusual building.

Called the “House of Chimeras” and completed in 1903, this building is unusual because it is adorned with all sorts of creatures: chimeras, mermaids, toads, animals’ heads, and a realistic-looking snake, slithering down a corner of this 9-story building. What’s even more off-putting is that this wonder stands right across from the Presidential office building.

After doing some research, I found out that it was built by Vladislav Gorodetsky, a man with a taste for intricate details. Some of his other creations are the St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Karaite Kenesa, and the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Enjoy these intricate and out-of-the-ordinary creations!

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House of Chimeras currently serves as a place for diplomacy meetings for the Ukrainian President. Photo credit to Jennifer Boyer.

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More full-scale (photoshopped?) version of the building. Photo credit to Slava.

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Close-up. Photo credit to Jennifer Boyer.

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St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Cathedral. Fun fact: it used to serve as a KGB meeting place for some time after 1938. Photo credit to Jennifer Boyer.

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A salamander, perched under the St. Nicholas R-C Church. Photo credit to user zalgalina.

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St. Nicholas! Photo credit to user zalgalina.

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Gorodetsky, the man responsible for the House of Chimeras and others. Photo credit to user zalgalina.

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Old photograph of the Karaite Kenesa. About 800 Karaites (original peoples of Judaism) currently live in Ukraine. Photo credit to user zalgalina.

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Modern interior view of the building. Photo credit user to zalgalina.

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And finally, the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Photo credit to user zalgalina.

 

 

 

The Human Barbie

Ukrainian Barbie. If you have not heard of this catchy phrase then let me tell you why it’s been in various media outlets recently.   The Ukrainian Barbie is a woman who is known as the “Human Barbie Doll.” Her name is Valeria Lukyanova and she has been catching medias attention with her extremely tiny waist and her porcelain like face. To make it clear Valeria is not Ukrainian but Capture2in fact she is from Tiraspol, Moldova. The Washington Post  makes a statement that this is another side to Ukraine and as a Ukrainian I must say that this statement gives a false representation of Ukrainian culture. Not all Ukrainians look like barbies and most are much more traditional compared to this Human Barbie. But getting back to Valeria Lukyanova, she does closely resembles a barbie and she is adamant in having a strong self promotion.

If you type in her name, you can see that the western media is loving her in a weird way. She has established her own Wikipedia page, made headlines on E! News, the Washington Post and even in GQ magazine. The Human Barbie has also many followers on her Twitter and YouTube channel.

Valeria has recently made controversial statements in her GQ interview. The reporter had lunch with her in Indian restaurant in Odessa, Ukraine. When questioned about her fake name, Amatue,  and how it is about reincarnation (an Eastern Philosophy.) The interviewer preceded with a statement that Valeria’s beauty  is very Western. “American, even.”  Her reply?

“I wouldn’t say so. Everyone wants a slim figure. Everyone gets breasts done. Everyone fixes up their face if it’s not ideal, you know? Everyone strives for the golden mean. It’s global now.” The reporter replied that the idea of beauty is changing and it is different than what it used to be.

Lukyanova’s replied with “That’s because of the race-mixing. For example, a Russian marries an Armenian,” Valeria elaborates helpfully. “They have a kid, a cute girl, but she has her dad’s nose. She goes and files it down a little, and it’s all good. Ethnicity are mixing now, so there’s degeneration, and it didn’t used to be like that. Remember how many beautiful women there were in the 1950s and 1960s, without any surgery? And now, thanks to degeneration, we have this. I love the Nordic image myself. I have white skin; I am a Nordic type—perhaps a little Eastern Baltic, but closer to Nordic.

Before and After. Image Credit to Valeria’s social networking account.

Valeria does not see just how racist her comments are to other people. I find race-mixing extremely beautiful and exotic. When people come together to share their cultures , it shows that we are accepting and loving towards one another no matter what race you are. Valeria’s comments about race-mixing and degeneration reveals an insecurity that she has towards herself. She uses makeup to cover her natural self and her slightest imperfections.

The Human Barbie makes a point that her image is picking up and that she is going to travel to Turkey for a talk show appearance. When asked if she plans to stay in Ukraine, she replies with “The next step is to cut off Ukraine entirely, because all I get here is shit. Why waste my time on this?”

Human Barbie Meets Ken  Barbie

Human Barbie meets Ken Barbie

Not everyone is a fan of the Human Barbie, especially the American Human Ken; who has had 140 cosmetic procedures to look like Ken. When Ken met Barbie for the first time, he said she looked like a “drag queen” and thinks she’s “illusionist.”

The “Ukrainian” Barbie doesn’t have everyone’s approval regarding her looks; however, she is getting all the publicity she wants and she is very good at promoting herself. She uses  her YouTube channel as a self promotion tool by posting makeup tutorials.  People are so fascinated by her looks that they keep coming back to see how she achieves them.  I think the main reason as to why she is getting so much publicity is because the public is not used to seeing such a huge difference in physical appearance, especially when you look like an icon doll. Plastic surgeries get done everyday but you still do not look like a barbie (unless you have 140 cosmetic procedures.) The Human Barbie might be getting all the publicity she wants right now, but in time, just like with everything, someone or something will take her spot.

 

Femen: Giving us something to talk about

In my last post I talked about Ukraine is Not a Brothela recent documentary following the members of Femen. Originally based in Ukraine and now based in France, Femen is a feminist group of self-identified “sextremists” who lead protests with their messages written on their breasts. Before seeing the film I didn’t know much about the group, other than their chosen method of protest, since most of what I’ve read about the group seems to be exclusively interested in a) the fact that they protest topless (omg breasts—how scandalous!) and b) dismissing most, if not all, of their credibility as feminists based on that fact. Accordingly, many of the pieces that talk about them err on the side of the sensationalist (in the case of the more formal, “factual” media), or the downright patronizing (in the case of more opinion-based media like blogs).

Femen meme

An oversimplification of Femen’s ideology, at best

The way these kinds of pieces talk about Femen makes me uncomfortable in large part because they ignore the complexities of what it means to be feminist in a patriarchal society  and they pay little to no attention to the perspectives of the members themselves. Something that really struck a chord with me when I saw Ukraine is Not a Brothel is the fact that its interviews are exclusively of Femen members. Of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read about the group online since then (and there are actually more of those out there than I thought there might be), “Rise of the naked female warriors” by Kira Cochrane of The Guardian does a particularly good job of incorporating a member of Femen’s voice into its analysis of the group, and “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich (which I mentioned in my last post) definitely wins the award for most humanizing portrayal of the group. Jess Eagle’s House of Flout blog also provides a great, nuanced analysis of Femen’s implications for feminism as a whole.

"Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right"

“Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right #MuslimaPride (sic)”

This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate criticisms of the group that go beyond their chosen method of protesting. Not examined in Ukraine is Not a Brothel, for example, is the group’s approach toward Islam-specific feminist issues. When Tunisian woman Amina Tyler was arrested following a topless protest in her country last year, Femen activists protested for her cause in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis, announcing that they were bringing a “Topless Jihad” to the Middle East. This has drawn backlash in feminist and Muslim spheres from those who see this as a neo-colonialist attempt to “save” oppressed Muslim women (sparking the hashtag #MuslimahPride seen in the picture to the right). For an on-point explanation of why people are (understandably) upset about this, I recommend checking out these pieces by Manar Milbes, an American Muslim, and Italian blogger laglasnost.

At the end of the day, the way the media portrays Femen has the biggest impact on what we pay more attention to–their message or their breasts–and currently it’s not their message that’s winning. That probably isn’t going to change, because, you know, sex sells and all (and apparently breasts = sex), but we as media consumers can certainly do better by recognizing the hype for what it is and acknowledging that whether we agree with it or not, there is more to Femen’s feminism than meets the eye.

Few Choices for Merkel in Russian-Ukrainian Conundrum

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is between a rock and a hard place these days. Being the leader of the country that’s financially propping up the European Union is tough enough without throwing in a balancing act when the Russian president flies off the handle while holding the EU’s natural gas pipes in one hand and Ukraine in the other.

Background

If you have had a hard time following this whole ordeal with Ukraine, here is how the whole thing got started, in a nut shell. Late last year, the Western half of Ukraine wanted to become more integrated with the European Union -you know, break down some trade barriers and sell some grain to their neighbours (Ukraine is the world’s 3rd largest grain exporter)-.   The Eastern part of Ukraine is very pro-Russia and no so very pro EU. Viktor Yanukovych was the president at the time, and he was from the East and has a lot of Russian Support. (For a much more analytical, visual, and rather pro-Western Ukraine explanation, check out Max Fisher’s blog post for the Washington Post)

Clashes between Western protesters and the government get out of hand and Yanukovych flees (deeper explanation on Fisher’s Blog). The Ukrainian parliament decides to make the chairman of parliament the acting president. Putin decides that Yanukovych is still the president, and that parliament’s actions are unacceptable; so Putin gets the Russian parliament to grant him permission to use military force. Russian troops move into Crimea (a section of the Eastern part of Ukraine), in order to “quell protests,” but also to set the scene for Crimea to be annexed by Russia (something that the Ukrainian parliament is now set t vote on).

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, and the US president, Barack Obama, are working with Chancellor Merkel in trying to find a way to deescalate tensions in Crimea.

Merkel’s Dilema

Obama has already put a hold on bank accounts and travel documents for Russians and Ukrainians who support Putin’s actions and undermine Ukrainian autonomy. Merkel, on the other hand, is in no such position to hold Russia accountable.

As you can see from this lovely map that Wikier Samuel Bailey shared on wikipedia, most of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. This means that Merkel has to be very careful in dealing with the man who has his hand on the tap.As NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, pointed out on The Rachel Maddow Show that this dynamic was forcing Merkel to play “good cop” to Obama’s “bad cop.”

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John Cassidy, a political blogger for The New Yorker, seems to think Merkel is the key fixing this situation:

If there is a solution to the crisis, it may lay in Berlin, in the personage of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and the de facto leader of the European Union. Since the Russian troops moved into Crimea, Merkel has said little publicly, confining herself to a few anodyne comments about “preserving the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Behind the scenes, though, she is at the center of things. And, if anybody can persuade Putin that it is in his interests to order his soldiers back to their barracks, she might be the one.

On March 12th, Merkel quit playing “good cop” and gave a speech making it clear that military intervention would not be an option on the side of the EU or its member states. She did, however, say that it Russia were to take Crimea away from Ukraine, it would severely impact the relationship that Russia has with the EU and that Russia’s economy would suffer.

A video with English subtitles of her speech can be found here (unfortunately not many sites have an English translation because American media is currently focused on the disappearance of a Malaysian airplane). If you sprechen Sie Deutsch, you can watch Merkel’s full speech, below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX-iWr3WGBc

As you can imagine, the whole situation has been cause for great angst all over the world, and European bloggers have been particularly vocal about it. Many are vocal purely in the sense that they are history buffs or news junkies and unlike the media, who recounts the events of the day, they want to give you a holistic picture of the whole affair. One such blog was written by Jean Quatremer, with help from Lorraine Millot, of the French news site Liberation. The duo try to present the facts of the entire situation in an unbiased manner for their readers.

Other blogs offer less of a picture and more an opinion. A user called vincimus, on the German blog site Terra-Germania, is outraged. He (or possibly she) plays the  role of the conspiracy theorist. He writes in short sentences with vague references to different events and explanations of the situation. Vincimus asserts that Americans and Unkrainian “oligarchs” stormed parliament to overthrow the elected president and states that 10o,000 voices have been allowed to make the decisions of 44 million people.

In a political blog post on Stern.de, Von Lutz Kinkel agrees with Merkel, for the most part, but asserts that she’s just going through the motions. He believes that essentially, Crimea has already been lost to Russia. He says that Merkel can’t admit this, because if she does it essentially tells Russia that annexing other countries is acceptable and they can continue doing such things with no consequences. Kinkel appears to support the idea of the EU and Germany sanctioning Russia, but balances this thought by asking if they can morally implement sanctions when Germany has gone against international law in the past.

As for you, Dear Reader…

If you were to ask me, I would actually advise not to read any blogs about this situation. The fact is bloggers (including myself) get things wrong. If they had the necessary expertise to tell you the whole story, they wouldn’t be a blogger; they’d be a journalist, historian, or academic. Bloggers have interesting opinions, but they often like to present them as fact.

What you should really do is follow a news service like the BBC, who covers the context of the situation, the politics involved, and gets the first hand interviews with the people -from the politicians to the refugees- on the ground. Alternatively, you could follow Human Rights Watch, who has boots on the ground during situations like these and aggregates first hand accounts into reports and press releases.

Blogs, in these situations, are really just a bunch of noise; and it makes me hate to read them. 

The Cold War that never thawed

The political upheavals in Ukraine, and subsequent intervention by the Russian Federation in Crimea have once again brought the ugly specter of war to the attention of discerning people across the globe.  Along with the tension brought by this specter inevitably comes the finger pointing and gnashing of teeth, a classic East versus West match-up played out through various news agencies, online forums, and face-to-face arguments.

-Soldiers

Separatist and Russian troops like these have seized local government centers in Ukraine – a move reminiscent of the Cold War past.

Before picking sides and readying the battle-lines, casual observers like me need to take a step back and ask a simple question.  How did a functioning, albeit slightly impoverished democratic country like Ukraine devolve so quickly into a maelstrom of political depositions and nationalistic violence?  The answer lies in the simple fact that almost nothing has changed since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and the supposed end of the Cold War.

According to the Muskovite-based blog “The journal of Arkady Babchenko“:

“Indeed look at this also, even such actions as the beginning of wars and the annexation of the territory of an independent state in the minds of Russians now fully depends on the decision of one man – Putin.  Not Parliament, not the Senate, not a referendum – Putin.”

This is the age old assertion that Russia is overly autocratic and unwilling to compromise with anyone, let alone NATO or the EU.  Of course much the same could be said of Cold War Russia, but they are not the only ones perpetuating this obsolete foreign policy.  That’s right, the United States and her allies are equally to blame for the turmoil which has unfolded.

Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt

Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt touring an opposition camp in December. These two worked to initiate the uprising in Kiev.

In early February evidence surfaced of a telephone conversation between the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.  They not only chided the EU for its inability to influence events in Ukraine to their liking but also spoke about their plans for the leaders opposed to then President Yanukovich’s government.  In short, Russia and the U.S. have been up to their old tricks, using smaller, weaker nations as proxies for their ongoing struggle to control international affairs.

However, unlike the archaic days of the Cold War, ordinary citizens now have access to information emanating from both sides of the conflict so that big news is no longer our only source.  Yet, as the U.S. based blog Da russophile aptly points out:

“I assume that most of the people who read this blog agree that a great deal of what might be called the ‘Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine’ could better be termed propaganda. That is to say that it is a constructed narrative designed to produce deep-rooted convictions. Or, more bluntly, constructed lies and selected truths designed to shape opinion.”

So tell me, what has changed between 1969 and now?  Russia and the U.S. still maintain the largest nuclear arsenals on the planet and continue to exercise the same international power politics which defined the Cold War era.  My advice to you?  Educate yourself with info from as many angles as possible and don’t buy into the same old good-guy bad-guy routine.  To Putin and Obama?  1989 called, it wants its foreign policy back.

Here is a good blog originating from residents inside Ukraine who are just trying to get on with their lives.  Probably the closest we can get to a down to earth, unbiased perspective on these events.

 

Femen in Film

Featured at Columbia’s very own True/False Film Fest this past weekend, Kitty Green’s recent documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel  interviews the people behind the feminist protest group Femen. Originally based in Ukraine, Femen has gained international notoriety for the fact that its members protest with their messages displayed on their breasts. (Insert obligatory NSFW warning for the trailer below here.)

It might surprise you to know that Femen’s protest methods were once quite orthodox, and their original protests were aimed at the prostitution and trafficking of Ukrainian women (hence the title of the film). In the film, members explain that nobody paid attention to their message when they protested conventionally, but everybody paid attention when they started painting it on their breasts. They also see toplessness as a way of protesting the exploitation of the female body, an explanation that many people find contradictory and/or incompatible with feminist principles  (in fact, blogger Mona Chollet  of Le Monde diplomatique refers to their brand of feminism as “fast-food feminism“).

Femen

It might also surprise you to know that one of the original masterminds behind Femen is a man. His name is Viktor Svyatski, and his interview in the film is, er, interesting, to say the least—he comes across as both exploitative and yet oddly aware of the ironic nature of his (former) role as “patriarch” of the group. Inna Shevchenko of Femen France reveals that she moved the group’s base from Ukraine to France two years ago in part to loosen Femen from his control and in part to avoid political persecution in Ukraine.

Going back to the subject of the True/False festival, Inna Shevchenko actually appeared in person for a Q&A with director Kitty Green after the screening that I attended. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay a few minutes before having to run to catch another film, but I did see them walking by on the street later (my one and only claim to fame). If you were in the same boat as me and/or want to find out more about how the documentary was filmed, I highly suggest checking out this interview of Green from the British website Female First.

For more information on Femen’s mission in the group’s own words, check out their English-language website here or their (now-defunct, but still potentially interesting) Russian-language blog here. If you haven’t seen Ukraine is Not a Brothel (or if you have and are interested in something that runs along the same vein), I also recommend taking a look at “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich.

 

 

Meet the faces of Euromaidan

Euromaidan, the persistent group of protesters occupying the Independence Square (Майдан Незалежности) in Kiev, has been protesting for three months now, and are still going strong. Although there has been news coverage about the fight as a whole, it is interesting to note that the opposition group consists of people from all sorts of backgrounds and in my opinion this is why the opposition has been so strong. The name Euromaidan stands for two things: Europe, which is what the opposition wants Ukraine to be integrated into, and maidan, meaning open place or square, which exactly matches the name of the street being used for ongoing protests.

Men and women alike participate in opposition's protests. Photo credit to Ivan Bandura.

Men and women alike participate in opposition’s protests. Photo credit to Ivan Bandura.

Euromaidan is focused on bringing down a government deemed to be corrupt, so class, race, and gender differences have seemed to vanish because of a singularity of purpose existing for this group of protesters.

Woman carrying medicine to Euromaidan's wounded fighters. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov.

Woman carrying medicine to Euromaidan’s wounded fighters. Drawing by Oleksandr Komyakhov.

The group of protesters is made up of men and women- young and old, average class folks and even oligarchs. Among the protesters, there are several notable stereotypes. GlobalVoices shows drawings from Oleksandr Komyakhov. Among these are drawings of a wealthy man bringing tires and a woman carrying bags with medicine to help those who are beaten by the Berkut police.

The most outrageous is a picture tweeted of an old Euromaidan protester lady, being pulled away by a Berkut policeman. It seems that Berkut is trying to hang onto power in every way possible, even if it means attacking an older woman who probably wouldn’t even cause much harm to the police in the first place.

Berkut policeman drags away elderly Euromaidan protester.

Berkut policeman drags away elderly Euromaidan protester.

Among the protesters is a group known as the women’s 100. Yulia, a university student, is part of this women’s 100 group. According to her, this women’s group takes in women of all ages, even 12 year old girls, with their parents’ permission. She says that the women’s 100 goal is to “Try and hold peaceful talks with the Berkut police and the young men who oppose Euromaidan.” They do not support violence from either side, so their main goal is to try and help Euromaidan succeed under peaceful circumstances.

“Чувства страха нет, — откровенничает Юля. — Даже когда нас разгоняли, его не было. Мы наравне с парнями несем вахту. Им ведь тоже нужно отдыхать.”                                                                       (“There is no feeling of fear, – shares Yulia. – Even when they were trying to make us leave- there was no feeling of fear. We carry our responsibilities equally to the guys. Because even they need a rest.”)

Those who do not support Euromaidan’s movement consider fighters of Euromaidan to be violent and extremely dangerous. A certain anonymous blogger was quick to label Euromaidan protesters as “fascists” who beat up innocent men and women of the “For a clean Kiev” group, which supposedly seeks to keep Kiev clean and rid of violence.

 

Both sides have a pretty negative opinion of one another, and it is clear that neither side is willing to give up, which poses a dangerous predicament. If eventually both sides do not come to some kind of agreement, the type of civil violence Ukraine is to encounter will be devastating.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOkKuDRpBDE

 

Click on the link below to follow Euromaidan’s official Twitter page.

https://twitter.com/euromaidan

 

Prison Wall Flowers

Thank you to my fellow classmates, I have officially come to the dark side: I am now using Twitter. Of course, I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet… I think I might have one follower and I’m following something like five other people. Actually, to be completely honest, I’m not sure if they’re even people.

So as I was playing around, slowly crashing my internet and laptop by clicking a bunch of random things, I decided to type in “Russia” in the search box and see what people are saying, or where that would even take me. Turns out, people really are speaking about Russia! The first couple tweets that popped up were about the release of one of the Pussy Riot members from prison:

Moscow appeals court frees 1 member of jailed Russian punk band; upholds prison sentence for other 2 – @A

Russian punk band members to be sent to remote prison: Russian prisons are notorious for squalid conditions and … http://yhoo.it/Wq4IoT 

And the next few that caught my attention all linked to the same article:

Sailboats and Swans: The Prisons of Russia and Ukraine – Photographer Michal Chelbin spent three years… http://tmblr.co/ZBDlKyVP9XRQ

This article is based around the work of a famous Israeli photographer, Michal Chelbin. She’s done various solo shows all over the world including New York and Israel. Chelbin’s art is included in many prestigious public as well as private collections. Her work is described as “absolutely amazing” by andreameislingallery on tumblr, “superb” by Ian Brumptonon twitter, and her last exhibition is a “truly amazing body of work” according to AndreaMeislinGallery on twitter. This particular article, the one mentioned in a few tweets, discusses one of her latest works: “Sailboats and Swans”. This specific exhibition includes Chelbin’s work from 2008-2010 from Russia and Ukraine of… (you’ll never guess)…. PRISONS!

I don’t know about you, but I saw a little pattern there: Russian prisons!

Yeh, I know it might not sound super exciting just yet, but after clicking through a couple more links, I did see some good material for a blog.

Sticking to my previous theme of interior design, I just had to ask myself the obvious question: what does a prison look like?

When I think of a prison (especially a Russian one), I think of dark grey walls, black mold, rusty metal poles, and some other chilling and daunting images. Chelbin decided to challenge this stereotype. One of the first photographs that popped out at me, personally, is the following work of art:

Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, pose for Chelbin in the Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukrain 2009

Two inmates sentenced for violence and theft, pose for Chelbin in the Juvenile Prison for Girls, 2009. See more at: http://www.andreameislin.com/exhibitions/2012-10-18_sailboats-and-swans

Since when do prisons have flowers? Wallpaper? Artwork?

The next picture portrays the sleeping accommodations of young boys:

A young male prisoner posing for Michal Chelbin in a Russian juvenile prison

Sentenced for murder, Stas lays back on a metal bunk of a Juvenile prison for boys. See more at: http://lightbox.time.com/2012/10/01/sailboats-and-swans-the-prisons-of-russia-and-ukraine/#ixzz2A4WSJH5s

Notice the light blue curtains, wild print blankets, the aqua-colored metal cots along with night-stands and stools. According to Svetlana Bakhmina, a former lawyer that served her prison sentence in a Soviet styled camp south-east of Moscow, her specific prison housed anywhere between 50 and 100 people in something similar to an army-styled barrack which included rows of bunkbeds (just as pictured above). She told BBC that all she got was a night stand and a stool, once again just like the above picture. This type of layout is definitely not what I was expecting from an average prison, but seeing several people describe prison in this way makes me wonder if that is what most prisons are like in Russia.

Back to the photograph above… The flower-patterned wallpaper, is once again hard to miss along with the small crystal chandeliers hanging off the white ceiling. Looking at all those things, I would not have guessed this is a prison.

Interestingly enough, the title of this particular exposition, Sailboats and Swans, refers to the eccentric and rustic murals and wallpaper backgrounds that Chelbin found throughout the prisons (http://www.andreameislin.com/exhibitions/2012-10-18_sailboats-and-swans).

So what does all this say about prisons? About Russians? What do prisons in general say about Russian popular culture? Well, I’m not exactly sure that I have all the answers. All I know is that these pictures raised more questions for me than answers.  And honestly, I think the answers to those questions might vary from person to person.

To help you form your own answer to the questions above, I do want to point out that not all prisons look like the ones in Chelbin’s photos.

The National Geographic takes their viewers to a totally different extreme of the Russian prison aspect.

http://www.natgeotv.com/asia/inside-russias-toughest-prisons/videos/vladimir-the-cannibal

http://www.natgeotv.com/asia/inside-russias-toughest-prisons/videos/black-dolphin-prison

Those webisodes are intended to give you another view on Russian prisons. A little harsher look at things behind bars (which Chelbin doesn’t even illustrate in her photographs).

Not only does Michal not show any physical bars of her prisons to her viewers and essentially raises more questions than answers with her artwork, but one of her main goals is to actually make her audience wonder “Who is this person? Why is he dressed like this? What does it mean to be locked? Is it a human act? Is it fair? What do we see when we look at a locked person? Do we punish him with our eyes? Does a killer still look like a killer? Is it human to be weak and murderous at the same time?” (see what else she says at http://www.en.ozartsetc.com/2012/10/03/sailboats-and-swans-by-michal-chelbin-andrea-meislin-gallery-ny/). When a guest walks though Michal Chelbin’s exhibition, or a reader flips through her publication, they do not know who these people are, what they’re doing, or why they’re in jail until the very end. At the end, when she provides the identities of the unknown people and crimes, she wants her spectators to “look at [this exhibition] and see themselves… The circumstances of life could have brought anyone to this place” (http://lightbox.time.com/2012/10/01/sailboats-and-swans-the-prisons-of-russia-and-ukraine/#ixzz2A4m14xpS)

I strongly disagree with the last half of her statement. I do not believe that even the most extreme circumstances can bring me to eat another human being (as in the National Geographic video) or even kill someone, or steal. It’s just wrong and against my morals. Having said all that, it is astonishing what Chelbin can reveal to people like me through a simple still photograph.

Take a careful look at the following pictures:

Vania. Sentenced for sexual violence against women. 2010.

Vania, sentenced for sexual violence against women, 2010. See more at: http://www.en.ozartsetc.com/2012/10/03/sailboats-and-swans-by-michal-chelbin-andrea-meislin-gallery-ny/

Man with swastika tattoo in men's prison, 2008

Man in men’s prison, 2008. Did not wish to reveal name or crime. See more at: http://www.en.ozartsetc.com/2012/10/03/sailboats-and-swans-by-michal-chelbin-andrea-meislin-gallery-ny/

Sentenced for theft, Ira is posing for Michal Chelbin at a women's prison, 2009

Sentenced for theft, Ira is posing for Michal Chelbin at a women’s prison, 2009. See more at: http://www.en.ozartsetc.com/2012/10/03/sailboats-and-swans-by-michal-chelbin-andrea-meislin-gallery-ny/

Diana with her daughter Yulia at a prison for women and children, 2009

Diana with her daughter, Yulia, at a prison for women and children, 2009. See more at: http://www.en.ozartsetc.com/2012/10/03/sailboats-and-swans-by-michal-chelbin-andrea-meislin-gallery-ny/

I might not agree with everything Michal says, and in fact I strongly disagree with the last statement I quoted, but her photography forces me to connect and relate to her subjects. Something about the faces and the expressions of these people makes these photos breath-taking and encourages sympathy.

Michal Chelbin has noted that she asked her objects not to smile. When they smiled, according to her, they got a “fake mask”. Her objective was to catch these people as they would be during their day to day lives without any extra “masks” or fake barriers they might be putting up for the camera. In the past, she has told a reporter she “usually [photographs] people outside the mainstream, and [looks] for faces and eyes that express the complexities of life and… a gaze that transcends from the private to the common”.

The portraits she took include a wide range of both males and females. Some of the younger girls, such as the fourth picture from above, have pale and delicate skin while other older women keep their facial characteristics severe with heavy makeup (this is both true in and out of prison). There are boys that look so small and innocent, one would not believe they deserve to be in jail. Their bodies are over worked and, with time, they start looking more and more like zombies. Other older men have scars that speak of years and years of hard living. Tattoos among men are not uncommon. They are meant to represent strength, social status, possible strong religious beliefs, and are deeply symbolical to their owner. Most importantly of all, Russian prison tattoos are a solid proclamation of the wearer’s rank within the complex and unique social imprisonment system.
In all of the portraits here and the ones available online, there is a sense of dignity that is emitted by the prisoners.
Even in rough times and in harsh prison conditions, Russians walk proud and hand-in-hand with their dignity.
To me, all of the photographs have a mythical, legendary, and mysterious aura. It is frustrating how this Israeli photographer brings up more questions with almost no answers, but she also does a fabulous job capturing something not everyone has the honor to be able to observe; I’d say she definitely makes her fans engage in meaningful, deep thinking.
In any case… who knew one of the world’s coldest countries with the toughest prisons puts flowers, wallpaper, and paintings on their walls?

Tour a destroyed nuclear power plant

In early 1986 an event occurred at Державне спецiалiзоване пiдприємство “Чорнобильська АЕС” that would forever change nuclear energy. During a system test, reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a major disaster, the worst of its time and the worst on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Now 25 years later, life has not returned to Chernobyl. Located in Pripyat, Ukraine, the town is now part of a zone of alienation where no one can inhabit. Only wild animals grace the land, with nothing but abandoned buildings and clean up workers, but this is changing.

Tourists are now allowed into the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Think for a moment about radioactivity caused by nuclear disaster. Nuclear radioactivity taints objects that are exposed to it. These tainted objects then interact with other objects and essentially corrupt the atoms holding things together. Consider the recent events with the Japanese nuclear reactors melting down. There are those in the world who stopped trading with them because they thought their food or other objects may be carying that same radioactivity which inevitably leads to cell-mutation more commonly known as cancer.

“The Chernobyl zone is not as scary as the whole world thinks,” said spokeswoman Yulia Yurshova. “We want to work with big tour operators and attract Western tourists, from whom there is great demand.”

Chernobyl as a tourist zone has quite an interesting unfolding of events. They are trying to take something, which in the past has been known as a sad and destructive event, and turning it into something people can make money off. As a tourist you would be paying money to give yourself cancer. This world is strange indeed.

The tour is a sign of different cultures. Western tourists want to see a major disaster site.

To enter, tourists must sign extensive waivers and are then driven at “breakneck speed.”

“Let’s leave now, it is very dangerous to be here,” Vita Polyakova, a tour guide, told a group including The Sunday Telegraph last week. “There are huge holes in the sarcophagus covering the reactor,” she added, in a tone that suggested she was not joking.

Let’s leave indeed, as we find our bodies breaking down slowly and sickness reaching out to greet us, maybe we should think about where we lead people and their bodies.

Co-writer Dakota Dillon