New East Digital Archive

From tattoos to typography, meet the Siberian artists mixing satire and style

9 April 2020

An image of two men dressed as police officers kissing amid a serene, snow-carpeted birch forest caused a social media furore back in February when it appeared in Interview Magazine — and not just because it starred Estonia-born rap provocateur, Tommy Cash. Though Sasha Saharnaya’s shoot was set in Romania, this particular image was actually inspired by a 2004 photograph by satirical Siberian art collective Blue Noses. The original photograph was banned by then Minister of Culture Alexander Sokolov in 2007 from being exhibited in Paris, and even after a decade, remains divisive in Russia.

The duo behind the original (consisting of Alexander Shaburov and Vyacheslav Mizin) released more variations of the photo, including ballerinas, factory workers, and soldiers locked in an embrace. Their series, Era of Mercy, is probably the most famous example of Siberian conceptualism, drawing heavily on irony, kitsch, myths, and stereotypes to challenge societal norms in a way that is deliberately naive and tongue-in-cheek.

With the same genre still very much alive today, The Calvert Journal has rounded up the Siberian artists who continue pushing boundaries, this time through illustration and digital art.

JVCR is an anagram of sorts: it’s the letters you would press on an English keyboard to spell Omsk in Cyrillic. It’s also the name of an online creative community and merchandise shop сurated by local artist and photographer Renat Latyshev. Scrolling through JVCR is a kaleidoscopic experience of infinite possibilities: the visuals you’ll stumble upon could have come from your grandmother’s magazines, passed through the hands of a forest shaman and blessed by the spirit of Vasily Kandinsky before finally landing in the lap of your five year-old-cousin — with each figure leaving their own mark and style on the page. It’s a smorgasbord of Siberian talent, fuelled by self-irony, mystic symbolism, punk and paranormal.

Imagine Salvador Dali and Jack Sparrow sharing a bottle of vodka and drawing late into the night in the snowy Russian city of Tyumen, and you might get some idea of Herman IX’s surreal yet charming visual style. Greek statues left in trash cans, Puss in Boots with a gun, a genie strapped with dynamite, kids using barbed wire for a skipping rope: Herman’s sketches for tattoos and stickers, drawn in blue ink, question both human suffering and capitalist greed.

Novosibirsk-born Timur Zima is the curator behind, an account devoted to contemporary graphic and typographic design. His own outlandish and cyberpunk designs have already graced various media outlets, from the Latvian edition of Forbes to music videos for Moscow’s underground POEXXALI. Zima’s signature “Cover Siberia” font was included in the International New Aesthetics 2019 Anthology, while his CtrlX+CtrlV+CtrlZ pin has been a popular accessory among digital creatives and computer geeks. Expect lots of pastiche, such as illegal street ads redesigned for today’s businesses and brands, as well as neo-gothic, and internet 1.0-inspired artwork.

In 1970s Italy, illustrator Luigi Serafini dreamed up an encyclopaedia of an imaginary world. Codex Seraphinianus was published as a book in 1981 and is perhaps one of society’s most peculiar publications to date. But Serafini’s legacy lives on in the work of Alexander Innokentiev, who mixes otherworldly creatures and elaborate vehicles with visual references to his native Yakutia. Apocalyptically hellish and joyfully childish, his illustrations have accompanied cassette tapes and posters across Yakutia and St Petersburg’s DIY punk scene. If you were wondering whether goth-wear still exists in Siberia, you’ll want to check out his shamanic T-shirt designs for Kultrab.

Trippy and dark, Semën Ushkov’s tattoo designs ooze and flow like liquid on a body. Look at them long enough, and you might notice how they change shape, turning into mushrooms, snakes, and butterflies. On more than one occasion, flames transform into scorpions and galaxies turn into bodies. You can spend hours decoding Ushkov’s optical tricks and illusions. His designs are wearable too thanks to his latest gothic footwear collaboration with the brand Sintezía.

The world of Krasnoyarsk-born Roma Soida (aka Adios Amor) is a cyber-spiritual comic strip where the news headlines, pop culture references, and mantras collide. Soida’s practice includes both illustration and video art. His visual language is sharp and candid, whether he’s musing on his artistic journey or mocking global consumerist culture.

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