Russian Artist Draws Life under Putin

Russian artist

Victoria Lomasko’s new book tells the stories of Russia’s voiceless.

After facing censorship issues in Russia, the latest work by Russian artist and graphic journalist Victoria Lomasko was published in March of this year by New York–based literary magazine n+1. Other Russias is the first of Lomasko’s work to be published in English and the catalyst to her first American tour. The book is a collection of graphic reportage depicting the life of Russia’s voiceless under Putin.

According to the Russian artist, she jumped at the idea of having her work published in the United States and translated into English because of the political tensions between the two nations.

“It will be good if Americans hear the voices of ordinary Russians rather than just Putin,” said Lomasko.

The 320-page book chronicles Lomasko’s reporting from 2009 to 2016. It follows children from isolated communities, sex workers, elderly women, enslaved Kazakh migrant workers, members of the lesbian underground, skinheads, and Pussy Riot supporters.

In the middle of Other Russias the reader is introduced to two opposing characters, Kapitalina Ivanonva and Valentina. Both are elderly women taking part in protests. Kapitalina’s head is covered in a traditional scarf and she carries a sign with a picture of Lenin. Valentina is covered from head to toe and holds a sign that reads, “Way to go, Pussy Riot!”

Lomasko’s work seamlessly places traditionally opposing Russian characters side by side in an attempt to show the country’s diversity.

Russian artist

Victoria Lomasko

The book is divided into two parts. The first is called “The Invisible” and the second “The Angry.” The ink-and-charcoal drawings develop in complexity with every turn of the page. It’s obvious that the Russian artist let go of her inhibitions the more consumed she became by her subjects’ lives.

“At first it was hard for me to talk to people and to interview but, with time and during the work process, I learned journalistic practices,” she said. But even though Lomasko li learning the craft of writing, she considers herself to be, foremost, an artist. She has always felt more comfortable drawing a scene.

“Doesn’t regular journalism have visual components?” said Lomasko. “Almost all articles have photos and even deeper visual components. More rich visual components make it more interesting for the reader.”

Russian artist

Victoria Lomasko

All the drawings in Other Russias are in black-and-white. According to Lomasko, some of the drawings were originally in color, but the publishing budget allowed only black-and-white printings. Though it was not a stylistic choice, the lack of color reflects the dreariness of Russia’s long-lasting winter. “Black and gray sky, snow and dirt, people wearing black, brown and gray clothes,” is how Lomasko described memories of the season.

But none of the drawings need color in order to be gripping. Color would in fact distract from the stories.

Russian artist

Victoria Lomasko

The Russian artist is working on a new book on post-Soviet society. “This book has many more color drawings,” said Lomasko. “It’s just that those countries, like Armenia, Georgia and Kyrgyztan, have much more sun and flora — more color than Russia. end

Special thanks to Veronika Bondarenko, who translated this interview from Russian to English.

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