Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Matryoshka in a New Place

I finally came to some sense of stability and harmony, to a degree, in my temporary home with babushka. Starting my next matryoshka means a lot of hours of concentration, because I chose a very difficult building for the background. It's difficult because it has so many windows and non structural designs that it takes a lot of patience to draw.

Babushka really likes to keep things neat. She'll have to outgrow that, there's no way I can set up and clean up every time I take a break.

The most difficult and time consuming part is looking at the photo and using two point perspective and long rulers to draw the building. It's like a tall hill I must walk over, once that's done it's like a fun jog downhill with painting.

Initial sketch is very light, because I don't want it show through the paint.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Some Art Stuff Between the Cultural and Political Self Evaluation

Truth is this blog was created many years ago for the purpose of sharing my art. I've gone through a phase when I deleted everything on it and completely abandoned the project. I'm working my way back to posting my art faithfully and daily. I'd really like to gain a world audience for my paintings, for what is the purpose of making art if not to share it with others?

While I've been in Russia I started revisiting my old sketches for a story I am particularly fond of by Gogol. The title roughly translates into The Terrible Revenge. When I first read the story I felt a sense of destiny that I should read it, it hit close to my heart and my life experience. It was like a cautionary tale written directly and very specifically to me personally. I was so taken by it that for some reason I sat down and copied the entire thing by hand, and it's a pretty long story! I felt that I really had to make myself memorize it and make sure and remember its significance to me. I also dreamed of illustrating it and have taken some steps to planning the first scene and developing the main villain.

I brought the sketches with me to St. Petersburg simply because they were in my sketchbook. I thought I was going to use my sketchbook to plan my series of matryoshka paintings because that's the what I've been invested in recently in Tucson. But I found it difficult to work on that series in my transient state for it required a lot of precision and calmness of mind, things I don't have right now, as I am away from my husband, reconnecting with my childhood, learning about myself through communication with my grandmother and seeing my country and its culture through new eyes.

I let go of my usual sense of control over my medium and came up with this.

Reflections on the Culture of May 9th Celebrations

Dear readers, now that the proper period of respectful reverence has cushioned the epic Day of Victory in Russia, constructive criticism may shower its sacred memory.

As years dragged on since my involuntary emigration in 1996 at the impressionable age of 10, I tenaciously clung onto ideals most vivid in my memory. Tears poured from my eyes upon hearing songs of the WWII genre, and I don't mean just tango music of the 30s and 40s. I mean there's a real genre of music in Russia that is solely about war, and is rather beautiful; everyone can sing along or at at least hum to its melodies. My empathy for the unknown soldiers who died in wars unknown to me (all those fought after WWII, of which there are many) ran deep and hurt my soul. It was a strange feeling. The emotion was exclusive to my country of origin, it never occurred to me that maybe the empathy should run as deep for other nations and their losses.

The feeling was so innate and I never questioned it, until this May 9th. For the first time in my adult life I witnessed what the actual day looked liked. I saw the televised procession of militant humans and machines. I saw the powerful congregations of civilians walking in memory of their lost ancestors, four generations passed. I thought of the implications of these elements.

The present Russian government capitalizes on the sense of camaraderie of its civilians in this colossal and very righteous event that transgressed 70 plus years ago. The Soviet people beat the Nazis and saved the world. The Russian government can now use this event as the means to justify investing in its military power. On May 9th they can show off all the young recruits marching through the streets of major cities, who can only hope to live up to the deity-status of those who died in WWII. All the civilians can bestow complacent pride upon the rivers of future casualties. People's desire to congregate for a cause is quenched in a union of a politically supported, and militantly accommodated Immortal Regiment to commemorate the much appreciated casualties of WWII. Nationalism is fortified yearly, on May 9th.

I question the sincerity of my government sponsored empathy for the soldiers of my mother nation and their sacrifices for the safety of their families. I no longer cry when I listen to one of my favorite genres of Russian music. I enjoy it with a sober apprehension of its power to affect my mentality.

I can't help but feel a sense of shame for my cavalier commentary, I know May 9th is truly sacred to my people. Nevertheless I feel it is necessary.

Some televised snippets of televised programming:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 9th and the Immortal Regiment

Today was Victory Day in Russia. Many celebrate this day full heartedly. Investment in festivities on a national and personal level can probably be considered greater than any other holiday in Russia throughout the year. WWII has touched this country in a very tremendous and lasting way. To give an insight I'll briefly tell my family's experience. My mom is Russian and from St. Petersburg. My father is Armenian and from a Georgian village and his family was not at all involved in the war. So this is relevant for only one side of my family.

My great Grandfather died fighting in the war. My great grandmother was left in charge of two children, one 4 years old and one 6 years old at the start of the war. She lived with them in St. Petersburg, and managed to not only survive herself through the blockade, but also save both of her children from starvation. My own grandmother and her younger brother witnessed death, sickness and the depraved desperation of humanity from famine and cold at an early age. They lived to be functioning adults, raised their own families. My mother, growing up, spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who told her many stories of her experience in the war. My own grandmother has told me many stories about her experience in the war also. And thus we have four generations, two of which were actually physically present in WWII and two who are the direct descendants of these survivors and have first hand accounts of what happened.

While I only have one side of my family that has sustained death, loss, and survival, others have much larger families and people on both sides, their father's and their mother's, with deep roots in this gigantic monster of a war. Today I saw small children, who would be the 5th generation removed, interviewed by news crews in the streets of our city, telling them very clearly and with understanding who their predecessors were in the war and what they did and how they died. These children felt pride in their ancestor's contributions and sacrifices to the nation for the well being of its people. When I have my own children I will also be telling them these stories.

Until this year I was convinced that all people felt this pride who were from Russia. I found out recently, only yesterday in fact, that some people whose families were not directly involved, do not actually care. I was surprised to find this out because I am part of that culture of immense pride in the contributions, sacrifices and the ability to survive through the adversity of WWII. But having lived in America for as long as I have (since 1996) I do have a new perspective, coming back and really seeing this celebration first hand after so many years. Hearing other people's opinions and knowing something about human psychology from sheer life experience has opened up a new dialogue in my mind about why the Russian people in such large numbers feel such immense pride in this particular event and how it effects them on a personal and national levels.

I'd like to write more on this subject, but being as this day is so sacred to so many people, I'd like to leave that discussion for another day and close this with some videos from today's March of the Immortal Regiment. An even where all people who have family members that have been effected by WWII bring photos of their ancestors, if they have them, and come to the main streets to march in their memory. I went with my great grandmother's photo, her name is Taisiya Ivanovna Susoeva, 1906-1983.

Here are some videos from the time before the actual march started. I started taking a few videos when people were just arriving and joining the formation for the actual event. By the time I found my place in the crowd there were so many people and we were so tightly packed that there was no sense in trying to take any videos because all I could see was the people directly around me and nothing much else.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Labor Day Parade in St. Petersburg Russia

So while I was out and about Nevsky Prospect I witnessed the rest of the Labor Day parade. Before recording some of my impressions I have to put in a disclaimer that I am all in all very ignorant of all things political and current. I never watch the news and don't believe the news from the media in any country so I hear what friends and family tell me and make my deductions from things I hear in real life from people around me or see with my own eyes in the real world. I am in no way assuming I am right about anything, these are just the impressions I have from my own perspective.

The parade consisted of political factions represented by civilians, not politicians. The factions I think I witnessed, based on what I heard them screaming through their loud speakers, are as follows (some names given to factions are my own, I don't know all their real names): Neo Communists, Anarchists, Nationalist Bolsheviks, Labor Union, Russian Socialist Movement, More Anarchists, Veganism is Easy!, Women's Rights, Great Russia Party, Nationalists (more like Neo Fascists), Green Party (more like Animal Rights Party). 

I did do research about each flag that I saw in the procession, all names are either direct translations or based on the proclamation of the party. For example the Neo Fascism party is a nationalism elitist philosophy with pretensions of being God's chosen people and their mantra was "get rid of the parasites" meaning the people who were not from Russia, which is a very difficult thing to state since Russian people are of various mixed origins, with Germanic and Mongolian and Arabic genes to list just a few of the things making up the "Russian" population. 

It was strange to me that with all these very opposing views walking together, and some extremely charged with hate, no one did anything violent. Also, the military presence was not scary. I was also surprised that more people did not show up to march for the political parties such as women's rights. It was also weird that LGBT rights did not march, considering the times we live in, I wonder what would have happened if they did show up? The biggest contingent was the green party, they were also the nicest, because they did not yell anything and said nice things like "we hope you're having a good day." 

The only violent thing I saw was a white man who spoke English who for some reason felt like yelling obscenities at everyone that was in the procession. I could take it no longer when he started yelling at the women in the women's rights section, he said things like "no one wants to touch you" and "you're ugly" and other such things, in English. I caught him doing it on the video. But then I cussed him out and told him he's disgusting. I caught that on video too.

To wrap things up...It was really strange to see fascist inclinations so publicly exhibited in a nation that suffered so much at the hands of fascists and invested so much of itself into the fight against fascism especially so close to May 9th, the day we celebrate beating the Nazis. It was also really strange to see very young people march in the name of communist ideals, although they called themselves socialist, they certainly had the looks and the speeches of communists. It was also really strange to hear a middle aged, white male yelling obscenities at women standing up for their rights in English in Russia. Generally I have a sense of political regression.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Russian Grandmothers

I usually try to avoid answering my phone when it's my mom or my grandmother. Most of our conversations consist of them telling me how I should be doing things differently and how my life isn't what it could have been had I listened to them. So I listen to them less and less as I grow older. For a while though my grandmother stopped calling me altogether because she got used to the idea that she had nothing to say to me that I would want to hear, so when she called I answered.

She said she's getting surgery and I must immediately fly to Russia. She thinks her surgery will be sometime in May, although she doesn't know exactly.  A preliminary consultation with a doctor is scheduled and at this consultation she will be given a specific date for the surgery. Surgery is imminent.

I bought a ticket and came to Russia. I thought my grandmother was getting a surgery. I went with her to the "preliminary consultation" and it was certainly not a visitation to schedule any surgery. Rather it seemed more like a routine check up with a doctor who decided to send her to do an MRI just to make sure she doesn't have cancer. Although I did not ask the doctor weather my suspicions are true because the time and place were not appropriate for such questions, I did think this may have been a yearly routine for my grandmother.

So while I'm here I'll take the time to share some of my impressions about St. Petersburg, the city I was born in.

First on the list is the May 1st celebration. I did not know this but May 1st is Labor Day and is very much observed in St. Petersburg. My grandmother tells me it's observed all over Russia since the Soviet Times. I went downtown to the central city street, Nevsky Prospect, to see what was happening. There was a parade and tons of people came to watch it.

When I first got off the metro I thought the parade was wherever these lovely ladies were and I followed them until the main square in front of the Hermitage where the parade culminated and there was nothing more to see. A small stage was set up there with an awful sound system that hurt the brain so I left. I walked through the arches and back towards Nevsky Prospect.

I thought all the festivities were over and people were just walking the streets now, but suddenly I saw a mass of red flags descending  upon us in a solid wall of human flesh and I knew there was more to be seen.

Fortunately I took a video. To be continued...