19 August 2022 Victoria Lomasko is a Harvester at Documenta fifteen. She artistically records what happens during the exhibition. The Russian exile artist has been making drawn reportages on social issues for over ten years - and once even entered Belarus hidden in a bag.
Victoria Lomasko is sitting in the courtyard of her Kassel accommodation building. She has brought two portfolios with her. Inventories of documenta fifteen. Drawings of scandals, of artists and staff. They show the soul of the exhibition. The Russian artist was asked to record documenta in Harvests. These are the representations of gatherings at the d15 made by artists. In Lomasko's case, they are small snapshots that will be published in an illustrated book at the end of the year. This is her second time in Kassel; she has been living in exile since March. Her story is one of coercion, of trauma, courage and the urge to give people a voice.
For more than ten years, Lomasko has been dealing with social issues, accompanying protests, looking at groups that are otherwise not given a stage. These include sex workers and activists. She tells of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the ensuing famine, of life in the provinces. Of her strict father, who whipped her into art and censored her poems until she no longer wanted to be a poet.
Her father, an unknown artist from a small town, as she describes him, had to spread communist ideology in the Soviet Union. "He painted Lenin dozens or hundreds of times in his life and hated it," she says. Therefore, she says, he dreamed of his child creating non-ideological art and becoming known for it - a goal he wanted to achieve through pressure. Lomasko remembers a canvas she had to fill for him at the age of three.
Harvest to the covered taring padi banner shortly before removal. Harvests: documenta fifteen, harvest by Victoria Lomasko, 2022.
She nevertheless sensed that her heart beats for drawing and stories, and saw in art a path to a better future: "I worked a lot as a child because I realised that I had to become a professional artist if I wanted to have a perspective." Later she studied printmaking and book design in Moscow, worked for a political magazine as an illustrator. However, she actually wanted to tell her own stories.
Her concern, she says, was to give "ordinary people" a voice. "I know what it means to live in the Russian provinces," she says: "For most people, it's just a matter of survival. There is little education and prospects, but a lot of alcohol abuse and domestic violence - I wanted to show these invisible people." In her work, she says, she noticed that these fates were connected to larger social problems and politics.
In the meantime, Lomasko produces photo reports and has already published two books, "Forbidden Art" and "The Invisible and the Angry". She is currently waiting for her latest book, "The Last Soviet Artist", to be translated into several languages. Here she illuminates how former Soviet republics are transforming into something new, and how the Soviet past is sinking in them.
For example, Belarus, to which she travelled across the border in 2020, hidden in a bag, to accompany the protests there. She also took part in demonstrations in Russia, for example against the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Even before she fled, it was dangerous for the artist, she says. She was censored, lost jobs and opportunities to exhibit her art. After the war in Ukraine began, there was no other option for her but to go into exile: "Putin's regime showed us quite clearly that it is a dictatorship. The message got through."
Currently, Lomasko is a fellow at the Akademie Solitude in Stuttgart and in Kassel for her Harvests until the end of the month. Her portfolios contain drawings between major events such as the removal of the Taring Padi banner on Friedrichsplatz, as well as private encounters and drawings by artists such as Ruangrupa member Indra Ameng and Dan Perjovschi. She is still considering which of the stories will become part of the coffee table book. "I feel good about being a harvester," she says. "I and my perspective are seen as valuable and interesting - just as every story and every person around me is valuable and interesting."
She has no concrete plans for her future and where she will live, she says. She only wants to return to Russia when Putin is no longer in power. At the moment, she worries about her visa every day. The fact that Olaf Scholz is currently refusing an entry ban is a ray of hope for her: "I have hope for my future again."