Victoria Lomasko in

'In Brescia the Russia of the forgotten in the works of artist and Soviet dissident Victoria Lomasko' by Samantha De Martin
11 November 2022 A professional artist, before being a dissident, Victoria Lomasko knows that her first exhibition in Italy, held in Brescia, will change her destiny.

Having arrived in Italy last March after a daring departure from her native Russia - a country in which she tried to the last to remain in order to carry out her role as a witness - Victoria has so far had to fight to obtain her documents 'spending a lot of time - as she herself says - proving that she is a dissident artist.' And now that her last work was completed last night in the Santa Giulia Museum - a space that until 8 January will host her solo exhibition entitled The Last Soviet Artist curated by Elettra Stamboulis - she who is considered by critics to be the most important Russian graphic social artist can truly be happy.


'In Brescia they have recreated the atelier of my dreams,' confessed Lomasko during the press conference for the inauguration of the exhibition organised by the Municipality of Brescia and the Brescia Musei Foundation. 'I like to think of Italy as a sandwich spread of beauty, but so big that you can't bite into it. I am struck by the way people relate to art'.
Presented as part of the Brescia Peace Festival, the exhibition, which can be visited free of charge for the entire duration of the initiative, marks the third act of the research curated by Elettra Stamboulis, undertaken by Fondazione Brescia Musei in 2019, which began with Zehra Do─čan's exhibition We will also have better days. Works from Turkish prisons, and continued in 2021 with Badiucao's solo exhibition China is not near. Works by a dissident artist.

'This third episode of Fondazione Brescia Musei's project,' emphasises Francesca Bazoli, president of Fondazione Brescia Musei, 'shows how contemporary art is an effective tool for addressing the issue of the protection of universal human rights. We did not go looking for dissidents, but for artists who express this kind of message. Fifty years ago, Brescia hosted the first Russian dissidents Mal'cev and Sinjavskij and still today it welcomes and supports those who stand for the rights of all of us.'


The exhibition itinerary, conceived specifically for the spaces of Brescia, shows a vast production of the Russian artist, who uses drawing as an instrument of chronicle and resistance. Lomasko created site-specific works during her residency in the city: five monumental panels designed and created ad hoc in the ateliers of the Santa Giulia museum complex, during the two months that the artist was in residence at the Fondazione Brescia Musei. And today the surprise announcement: 'the five works will remain inside the museum, because they were created for you,' promises Victoria, with the hope that, in the event of temporary exhibitions set up in international museums, they may be generously lent by Brescia and then returned to the city.


Lomasko's artistic research is enlightening in helping us reconstruct Russia's social and political history from 2011 to the present day in minute detail, from the anti-Putin demonstrations, which the artist has drawn live, to the representations of 'deep Russia', that of the forgotten and the marginalised, who have always been his favourite subjects.
On the other hand, as Stefano Karadjov, director of the Fondazione Brescia Musei, points out, 'The Fondazione's decision to show the work that has been mapping the last, the rebels, the marginalised of that immense and complex country that is Russia since 2005, dates back to before the start of the conflict with Ukraine. Our idea dates back to about two years ago, when a certain cancel culture in Russian sauce was raging. We came up with the idea of the exhibition in those months and immediately received the shield of the city politicians who have always protected this project. The attack last February made Lomasko's visual narrative even more urgent. It is very important to emphasise that the research of the artists in this trilogy dedicated to the relationship between contemporary art and rights is not guided by geopolitical priorities, but aimed at discovering new artists who are active interpreters of the society of their time. '


Thus, as the curator reiterates, The Last Soviet Artist becomes a historical-geographical-social journey with an installation designed to make the visitor travel in a geographical space unknown to him, beyond all simplification, following the atlas of anonymous faces, those of the last people living in the empire's immense suburbs, from Dagestan to Ingushetia, with its population of half a million inhabitants, and 78 ethnic groups.

The artist's invitation is to enter the geographies of the faces and thoughts of all those worlds that for many people are just names on the world map: Bishkek, Yerevan, Tblisi, Osh, Minsk.

In Frozen Poetry, the first section of the exhibition in Brescia, we can trace and visualise the artistic, social and intellectual transformations of Lomasko's country. We find works that pass through the mediation and resilience of artists such as Lomasko's father, who had to draw for the Soviet regime while being distant from it, up to the new generation that draws and witnesses the events imagining what is to come.


If it is the generational theme that throbs in the second section, Drawing Diary, with the artist reminding us how dissidence can also consist of words spoken under one's breath, an alienating effect typical of theatre explodes in the third section entitled Changing of Seasons. Here, a wall yields to the enormous mural created in Brussels immediately after the artist's forced exile. In this harrowing work, which emphasises the artist's ability to create possible worlds, the monuments become mercilessly operating subjects, continuing, albeit acephalously, to lash out. The people take on dramatic and desperate tones, while the voices of dissidence create shadows that make them deformed. The only act allowed is the gesture of placing the sheet over the body of Bucha's victims.


The most narrative element of the entire exhibition is instead embedded in the fourth chapter of the exhibition, entitled Graphic Reportages, which tells the story of how Russia got to this point. Here the public will be able to browse through works from the Juvenile Prison series, which bear witness to the reality of juvenile prisons in the capital and the chronicle of the Resistance that has fallen into oblivion. The series also reviews the complex reality of women: the street and club workers, the workers for others and the disillusioned ones who keep the country on its feet, catalysing the artist's feminist gaze.


From the loneliness of Moscow - an island suspended in the void as early as 2021, in the long year in which the borders remain closed and the fibrillations in the square, during which Lomasko draws live, unfiltered participants, resume - the exhibition flows into the last section. Five Steps is a prayer about the sense of exile, loneliness, isolation, but also about the profound faith in the idea of humanity that unites us all and is able to cross borders. These are five stations created especially for Brescia that have seen the artist engaged for over a month.

'These five works are accompanied by texts,' Stamboulis anticipates. 'The text is an integral part of Victoria Lomasko's art. You can only see the work if you read the accompanying text'.


At the end of the itinerary, not to be missed is The Last Soviet Artist, a documentary film dedicated to Victoria Lomasko, made by English director and musician Geraint Rhys, subtitled for the occasion.

11 November 2022
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