Street Art Storms Russia

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This week, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that Vladimir Putin would be United Russia's candidate next year, all but assuring him the presidency — possibly until 2024. Many in Russia saw this coming, and the country’s artists have been pioneering new forms of risky, highly public dissent.

Anna Nemtsova, Moscow correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, has been following the growing movement of street artists. Voina ("War"), a collective from St. Petersburg, is responsible for some of the most daring art actions. "They declared a war," Nemtsova tells Kurt Andersen, “to state corruption, injustice, and the political regime." 

It’s not high art. Voina’s actions (and the videos of them posted online) are designed only to mock and humiliate the Russian political class as humorously as possible, much like the illegal billboards of the collective Monolog. Last year Voina painted a 210-foot phallus on a drawbridge facing the Federal Security Bureau, the former KGB. Because of this and other actions (some of them truly Not Safe for Work), they remain underground to avoid arrest. But at the same time, the ministry of culture awarded Voina an art prize for their rude graffiti. "It's a very interesting phenomenon we have in Russia," Nemtsova says. "One hand is giving the prize, the other hand is punishing."


Slideshow: Political Russian Street Art

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Tennis Partners, Moscow, August 2011.

The underground art collective Monolog mounted this image over an existing shopping mall billboard opposite the Kremlin. It shows Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dressed as tennis partners, mocking their political partnership. It reads, "New Collection Spring-Summer 2011."

( Monolog )

Captain Medvedev. Moscow, August 2011.

Monolog’s street poster of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wearing a Captain America costume, holding an iPad. It reads, "Captain Russia. The First Ruler." Moscow's mayor's office deemed these poster displays "hooliganism" and ordered them to be taken down.

( Monolog )

Dick Captured by FSB. St. Petersburg, June 2010.

Street installation of a 210-foot-long phallus painted on a bridge in St. Petersburg. When the bridge was raised, the image faced the Federal Security Bureau headquarters. This year, the Russian Ministry of Culture awarded the art group Voina the "Innovative Prize for Visual Art" for the work.

( Voina/Courtesy of Anna Nemtsova )