Martina Stefanova is a curator from Sofia, Bulgaria, who created the ”Heartbeat” Series of Festivals for the Doma Art Foundation there. This past June the Doma Festival was called ”The Heartbeat of New Russia.” The name of the art fairpretty much sums up an emerging interest I’ve been having in The East, specifically in the Russian Federation.  There is really actually a New Russia, a generation born Soviet, but completely removed from the Soviet….and most of Russia…is not like this.
Martina Stefanova at the Russian Culural Center in Sofia, Bulgaria

There is, indeed, a New and Hopeful Russia…and it is not in the Eastern Ukraine (though there is a region there that people have in fact recently christianed “New Russia.”) This one is a generational thing. Sort of an eclectic, somewhat elite group of mainly younger people that is open to exchange with the West, and sometimes actively seeks it.  A New Russia that has ordered a Mojito at the Ritz Carlton, smack in the middle of Mocba—-a Mojito—-and that has seen “Wall Street‘ in Russian at least 6 times…And cannot get enough of it.  There is, in fact,  a raging, passionate,  pounding heartbeat of New Russia, and it comes as The Federation is only 15 years old, and the media landscape that is fueling this heartbeat….is even younger than that.

One could say that diplomatically, it will take the United States and Russia beginning to understand each others interests with a bit more clarity to hear this Heartbeat of New Russia…but that’s not entirely true…its being heard “above” our countries’ governments every day, through huge developments in communications, and through the sharing of art.

After attending the Moscow Bianalle in September’ 13–being shocked at the level of Internationalism and Dissent at the show,  all around 100 yards from the Kremlin–I headed to the very independent Bulgarian city of Sofia, where a whole bunch, pretty much the creme of the New Russian Art Scene, were gathered. I talked with several Russian artists, mostly in English, though in the case of the brilliant visual poet (Russia has a few brilliant visual poets…direct descendants of the ballet) Roman Emrakov, perhaps as noticed from the first question…it was much easier to switch to Russian.


So, Roman, what are these pieces about?

Roman: These are my life sculptures. These are my architecture sculptures that I made over five years. Special for me, for people, like home, which you can take.

What kind of  positive developments do you see happening in Russia right now?

Roman: (in Russian): Russia is changing everyday. The pulse is also changing every day. And what is very good for me is that in Russia there are many, many, many people, and those people are so different, that’s why the pulse and the heartbeat and the blood of the people in the country feels so passionate.  At any moment there can be any kind of collaboration between cultures that will be very unexpected for us. And we will be very surprised by it. We are seeing more collaboration amongst various nationalities within Russia.

In terms of the “patriotic” backlash against gay people in Russia, do you feel it much? Is it a big issue for you?

Roman: (In Russian) I feel many questions, many people are speaking on this topic, because you know that people who love each other, continue to love each other no matter what happens. And you cannot forbid love between people. That’s why I feel that people are not afraid to continue loving each other, and to continue to be open to other worlds, to other people and cultures. That’s why we’re not afraid.

Roman Ermakov “Untitled” Moscow

MASHA ERA Video Artist, Musician

The world’s been paying attention to human rights issues in Russia. How much do feel that art can improve the human rights situation there?

Masha: Well, uh, in my community, between my friends I don’t feel any kind of problems with this stuff. I communicate with a lot with artists from Europe, the United States and different countries and we don’t even think about this. It’s more important to talk about art and to talk about dialogue for us. So I mean, if you ask me if it influences the dialogue for the moment …no it doesn’t influence  it and I hope it will not influence it later. So I hope art will remain independent way of thinking and independent way of creating dialogue between people no matter where they live.

You speak and sing in 4 languages? Multi-culturalism seems to be an intricate part of your work…

Masha: In concert, yes. There are songs in English, in German, French and Russian. For me, knowing a lot of languages means freedom of communication. I try to speak as many languages as possible, but for the moment I can say English, French and Russian are the languages I’m most  fluent in. German I still have to study. I think that art is becoming more and more global. And I think in this situation we should have as much open dialogue as we could. And I wish my country actually can also become integrated into  this open dialogue. I think it’s possible, and I’m really looking forward to a good future. Language helps to help any kind of country to be more open. So for me knowing many languages is the door to another mentality, to another culture and to understanding and feeling another point of view… as well as way to share ideas and to live in a more comfortable world.

Masha Era, Stage Design, St. Petersburg


Victor, out of all the artist here you seem the one most involved with the West.

Victor: Well, I’m mostly a teacher now (at the British Higher School of Art And Design in Moscow), but I do portraits for the New Yorker and I used to do them for Rolling Stone and a few other magazines.

What do you think Russia needs to do to get more involved with the rest of the world?

Victor: To want it maybe? (laughs heartilly)  this is not an easy topic to discusss…

What would you like to see Russia look like in 20-years?

Victor: Uh…Bulgaria. (Laughs) I’m just kidding, but I really envy them. I really envy people who live in Western Europe because this is what Russia could look like, although it’s so vast and huge… It’s just a myth that nothing could be repaired because it’s so vast. It’s just an effort made in the right direction… that is not being made, I guess.

What would you say to people who are looking for freedom of expression in Russia,…what would you say to inspire them?

Victor: A lot of my colleagues have been asked those questions….leave. I don’t. I personally don’t because I feel that there still needs to be…. we need to fight back. We need to create things that are on the edge somehow, or over the edge. So, uh, I don’t know what to say to them. Come to our school… we still talk about things that are important and free. It’s a really hard question. So again I’ve uh, no forecast of what Russia is going to be in the next ten years because things can change in a day and it looks like they might very soon. I have my fingers crossed that we might not have to get used to the situation. But who knows, I’d just say “guys…hold on just be strong and keep saying what you’re saying don’t be afraid.”


Victor Melamed, “John and Yoko” Moscow

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