In Russia, mass protests against the war, like the ones that took place in February and March, were quickly stifled by new laws. For example, one Moscow city councillor was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony for passionately arguing, at a council meeting, that his district should not be debating the budget for a local children’s art show while their government was killing other children in Ukraine. A young woman who replaced the price tags in a supermarket with anti-war messages is now threatened with a sentence of 10 years.
However, there are Russians who are continuing to protest their government’s war. Many of those protests take the form of anonymous street art; graffiti, stencils and stickers have flooded cities all over the country. The artists then share their work on social media channels, where one finds photographs of thousands of art actions and even some practical advice — one site, for example, displays a map purportedly of the locations of the security cameras in downtown Moscow.
Such art builds community: it lets people know that they are not alone; it nourishes inner life in an increasingly authoritarian state, one now engaged in an ongoing state of war. Clearly, Samizdat has been born again, but this time on the world-wide web. We can probably say that this new art, with its sharp-edged dualism, has a spiritual dimension. Made in the moment on the street, then launched, via the internet, into time eternal and space unbounded, it helps to keep body and soul together.
In March, acting from what he described as feelings of deep sorrow, one sculptor from St. Petersburg began to equip his miniature plasticine figures with protest signs. He installed them, and photographed them, in various locations in the city. He then invited others to join him. The result has been a collective effort involving more than 900 artists in several different Russian cities The project is called the “Wee Little Protest.”
The artists make plasticine, clay or paper dolls who carry signs protesting the war. The little “protestors” each stand about six inches tall; they now number over 5,000; they even have their very own Instagram channel. Many of their signs are straight-out anti-war messages. A doctor doll, for example, with magenta hair and stern magenta eyebrows, is placed in what looks like a hospital corridor; she carries a sign reading, “I don’t cure people so they can perish in a war.” Others hold signs with scraps of messages that are more reflective and profound: “People are made to live.”; “Stay human!”; “It’s time to stand by each other.”
The creator of the project insists on the importance of the modeling process: the act of forming each little figure is of benefit primarily to the inner life of the one who forms it. Nevertheless, he notes that all the artists taking part have been gathered by one powerful shared feeling. The feeling is one of “emancipation.”
Text by Pat Stewart. Photos: Malenkiy_piket1 (@malenkiy_piket) • Instagram photos and videos