The first images of Russian street art that made it onto the blog circuit were unsettling. They weren't sorrowful like some of the works in Cairo, and they weren't subtly symbolic like the works in Hong Kong. No, these Russian pieces were disturbing because they were too benign.
The images, many of which were reproduced here, on the EnglishRussia blog, depicted a neighborhood with walls covered in friendly cartoon faces and children's toys. The display, which was all but officially-sanctioned, called the health of Russian protest art into question, but more recent developments have brought out its darker underbelly.Some of the most visible Moscow street art is directed squarely against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, and this will undoubtedly ramp up in time for next year's election. In an excellent new article on this point, the Daily Beast quotes members of guerilla group Monolog Art, who said:
"Everybody urinates in their pants before these two [leaders],” said one of the artists, “but it is so stupid to be afraid of these people. They decide everything for us while we ultimately lack any knowledge of their politics.” The artist called the motivation for the group’s poster series as “opposition to forced stereotypes.”
But Russian artists haven't limited their political statements to paintings on walls. Celebrated performance and conceptual art group Voina ("War") has made an impact staging a protest-orgy in a Moscow museum (link NSFW) and organizing a police-kissing campaign in the video below.
Sometimes, their work is more aggressive; two members of Voina were detained for four months while awaiting trial for overturning police cars, only to be bailed out by Banksy himself. In a fascinating article detailing the whole saga the BBC quotes one detainee, who was inspired by the experience, saying "Prison has been a most interesting and revealing adventure."
Voina has also created more traditional street art, such as the crudely-drawn penis that rose and fell with the drawbridge it was attached to. But their other work may be more instructive of the fact that Russian street art is just one facet of a larger youth culture. The humorous protests against Russian authority take many shapes, and, unlike graffiti, performances can't be so easily whitewashed.