Zosya Leutina: "I'm more afraid that Russia will win a nuclear war.
Zosya Leutina is an artist from Novosibirsk. Only after moving to Tbilisi did she realize "how much nastiness our country has done to other neighboring countries. The attitude towards Putin's government has also hit Russian cultural figures abroad. See why Zosya Leutina is afraid of Russia winning the war in Ukraine and why she is not afraid of "abolishing Russian culture" in the new issue of Eyewitnesses.
Tell us about yourself
- My name is Zosya Leutina, I'm an artist from Novosibirsk. I am both a teacher and have done printmaking, street art, and organized various events in Novosibirsk.
Why did you leave Russia?
- Because it became scary to do what you were doing. Because it was impossible to do it, and it was impossible to remain silent.
How did the war affect your work?
- It had a catastrophic effect on my work, because since the beginning of the war I have not been able to do creative work. I was working on completely different subjects, and this shock that happened and what's happening now doesn't trigger any creative reflection at all.
Art in the world, I think, has not been affected by the war at all. In Russia, a lot of people kept quiet; some started screaming very loudly, while others pretended that nothing was going on.
How do you feel about the "abolition of Russian culture"?
- I think it's just a reaction to the aggression of the country. It's natural, it's perfectly understandable, but it's just a populist reaction. What is Russian culture? Actually, it's still people. There are composers, there are artists. It would be hard to cancel Leo Tolstoy, it would be hard to cancel Dostoevsky. Yes, it's probably hard to read now. Probably a lot of people won't be able to read it for a long time. But, those names are already in cultural history anyway. That people can't think and talk about it now is understandable. And it can be shared.
I have an artist friend from Kiev who is in favor of this, and I can understand her, and I can't condemn her or even say that she's wrong. Yes, she's right now. Then it will be different, everything will pass, and attitudes will change.
In general, to be honest, I don't want to think that culture can be Russian, German, English, and so on. Because this story is an attempt to pin a person to a certain nationality and correspondingly to a culture. Culture is much broader than nationality.
What artistic anti-war actions would you point out?
I don't think there were that many of them. Because anything that was very loud, of course, was immediately cut off. There was a very iconic work. Unfortunately, I don't remember the girl's name. She was the daughter of the artist Isayev, one of the members of the AHE theater, her last name was also Isayeva. She had a performance in St. Petersburg that was very famous, everyone knows it - "My Heart Bleeds. And that was very special for me because I was in St. Petersburg at the time, I was walking around the city, I was looking for signs, I wanted to see how active the opposition in the city was. And I didn't see any stickers or signs, very few, very rare. And I thought, how come, such a city, why is it silent? And then, literally, the next day, friends wrote that she came out with the action on the street, look, such a story. Later girls in Tbilisi repeated it as a cue. It caused a lot of reactions and remakes.
Yes, indeed, there were street art works, there are still some artists doing actual works related to the war. They're not really explicit, in the sense that you can't go to jail for them. But of course, it's clear to everyone what it's about.
How do you see the future of Russia?
- I think that every territory has some kind of future. If we don't all burn in the flames of nuclear war right now, there will undoubtedly be life and probably even statehood in this territory. Because there is no territory in the world now without a government. No anarchist state has been made yet, it seems. So there will be something. Will it be Russia? I'm not sure it will be Russia. In fact, I wouldn't even want it to be Russia. For example, maybe Siberia would be better off somehow separately, and the middle belt would also be better off somehow separately. Why? It's too big a country. But, this is not my political beliefs.
What are you most afraid of?
- I'm afraid of getting lost in a foreign country, of not finding a way to continue being an artist. Or maybe not even finding a way to go on living. I don't mean that I'm going to end my life by suicide, but the life of artists in a foreign country is quite difficult. Because, in Tbilisi, in Georgia, to be a Russian artist now, it's even indecent, I would say. We don't have that kind of relationship, Russia doesn't have that kind of relationship with the citizens of this country, for you to be loved and welcomed here, this is also very understandable. And, in fact, it's a very interesting and powerful feeling when you realize how much nastiness our country has done to other neighboring countries. You can find this out by talking to local people, so now the future of the Russian artist in Tbilisi, it's not even in question, it's just not there.
Why are you afraid of a Russian victory?
- Because winning is the only trump card of our government in this game. And if it wins, this agony will continue indefinitely. And I would like to see it shortened. Of course, I generally wish that even before the war, somehow it would have ended neatly. Other things had already begun. But, I was very much afraid that it would somehow end that way. And, unfortunately, it did. But the farther into the woods, the thicker the partisans. It's very scary for the people who live there. Many of our friends are writing to us now, some have been summoned, some have been arrested again, some do not want to leave, and all this mess that is happening there, they are living in it, and it will be even worse. All in all, it's all quite scary.
Do you want to go back to Russia?
- I'm not sure that if the war ends, and even if this regime falls, there won't be something that's not better than what's happening now. So, in fact, I would like to go back to Russia, if it is true that a new society will be built there, if I see that I can be there not for close underground actions, but for creation. That would probably be interesting and meaningful.