Reporting From Russia

Artistry Through Turbulence

More than 20 years after an epic struggle, he finds harmony in the same place: his paintings.

Aslangery Uyanayev was part of a group of artists who squatted at Pushkinskaya 10 in St. Petersburg, Russia, to demonstrate the power of art during a time of tyranny. Today, he lives in the same place, with scuffed floors beneath dried-out brushes, plastic dishes of muddy water and canvases covered with vivid, chaotic paint strokes.

In 1991, Uyanayev joined with other protesting painters, musicians and writers at the end of the communist era (when many artists and art forms were restricted). As the chaos of a transforming country grew around them, the group’s aim was to establish an independent cultural center. They ended up doing much more. The artists’ work, including many informal concerts and art shows, formed a type of protective buffer between them and the tumultuous times in which they lived.

“We moved into the house with the world collapsing around us,” said Uyanayev.

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Young Musician Bucks Russian Musical Culture

The 15-year-old’s frustrating memories of German class do not stem from grammar drills or vocabulary words, but from balloons.

The balloons were from all the celebrations that Olja Voronenko’s school held in lieu of class. All of the celebrations were held to kill time in a school that didn’t have enough classrooms for teaching.

These were no celebrations for Olja, an aspiring violinist. As her teachers sat up front, sipping tea, and the students around her relished the free period, she struggled silently. “I had a lot of unorganized lessons, so I always felt guilty that I couldn’t spend that time on the violin,” she said.

This shy resident of St. Petersburg, Russia, with the piercing gaze is trapped in a school system that is ill-equipped to accommodate, let alone nurture, creativity.

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