New East Digital Archive

Urban scrawl: the Moscow edgelands where patriotism is writ large

Photographer Andrey Ivanov searches for clues to national identity on the edges of Moscow

22 September 2015

Photographer Andrey Ivanov spent three years documenting anonymous graffiti around Moscow — in search of the key to contemporary Russian national identity. He’s always been interested in text in public spaces but one graffiti had particularly sparked his imagination. It said “I am Russian, what a shame,” and pushed Ivanov to explore the etymology and affect of words used to signify Russianness. “We have two words that can be understood to mean “Russian”: rossiyane meaning all Russian citizens and russkiy, which refers only to the country’s largest ethnicity. The name of the country itself can be translated either as Rossiya, its common title, or Rus, one of the country’s more archaic names, which also comprised some territories of modern Ukraine, Belarus and the European part of Russia, with the capital of Novgorod (862—882) and Kiev (882—1240). Modern regulation and legal practice in this country point to russkiy and Rus sometimes being used as attributes of hate, or in some cases even extremist speech,” he explains. Most of the photos in Identity Index were taken on the outskirts of Moscow and by train tracks; some in the city centre. Capturing these spray painted outcries, Ivanov traced how national pride, and at times extremism, are woven into the everyday cityscape.