Portrait of Masha Era/C. Rhodes
Right now, Russia, and the new President’s relationship to “Russian Intelligence” during his campaign, is a major point of focus in America. The idea that the United States might pursue a better relationship with Russia just based on things like shared humanity and an interest in the well being of the world, actually does indeed seem naive, with a Russian “spy ship” allegedly spotted off the coast of Delaware, talk of sex tapes involving the Donald at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow (that allegedly have him “over a barrel” with “The Russians” (though I do not mean this literally)), and even the not-particularly-attractive idea that Vladimir Putin seems to have pocketed Robert Kraft’s Super Bowl ring a few years back, and seems currently to have no intention of returning Championship Ring #4 to downtown Boston (in the grand scheme of things, not so important, but the story definitely does not win Putin points with New Englanders…and it does actually speak of a commitment to theft that his critics would say sums Putin up entirely).
It’s all backward, the-KGB-is-alive-and-well-and-wants-to-conquer-the-world kind of stuff, but few places in the world were as forward thinking as Barack Obama’s Administration…which still had trouble with Russia, which they would say was based on Russia’s clinging to duplicity, cyber warfare and just a whole bunch of general dishonesty. We believe America has played too critical a hand in dealing with the Federation…we think the Ukrainian rebellion just before the Olympics may have had a little western dishonesty attached to it…but we don’t actually have the kind of information Samantha Power has. That…is fair to say. We’re a fashion website on the Upper East Side.
On a very serious note, Gorbachev has gone so far as to recently declare that the world is closer to war than it has been in a long time. Given the exchange of information online ( I mean by this free, open, and sometimes even non-negative information), and the freedom, and reasonably priced chance, to go to Russia whenever you want…which I have done three times…in search of art and a look at where Russia may be today…that…is a sad predicament. Russia may be the most beautiful and fascinating place I’ve ever been. It is so literary and theatrical that one imagines the ballet may have emerged initially as some kind of hallucination in the snow after a few vodkas and some dynamite caviar pancakes (the caviar alone is enough to get one to stay in one’s hotel until one’s visa expires). The constant, gentle snow of Moscow in winter creates a kind of visually poetic, exhilarating center, of a wildly passionate, and culturally divergent, nation (at least to someone visiting from Coney Island)…and I don’t think Putin wanted to take on the Olympics and the World Cup because he doesn’t want that nation to be understood by, and interacting with, The World.
So, outside of all the intrigue, and spy boats, and the vision of some of the best girls in the business peeing all over presumably the best suite in the Ritz Carlton on Tverskaya Street…here begins an intensely human look at Russia through looking at Russian Artists…in a piece named after an art fair, where I interviewed a number of these so called Russian Artists. These interviews and portraits were done at the “Heartbeat of New Russia” art fair in Sophia, Bulgaria in June of 2014, at the Russian Cultural Center, under the space capsule in which Yuri Gagarin crouched when he first shot into space for 108 minutes on April 12, 1961, becoming the first person ever to travel into space without drinking Absynth. Yes, these artists are posing beneath “Vostok 1” which now hangs in the Russian Cultural Center in Sophia, which, frankly, is really a very lovely city.
This brief, opening interview and portrait are part of a broader series called, not with much sparkling originality, “The Heartbeat of New Russia.” There ARE actually versions of these portraits with the hammer and sickle in the stars surrounding the heart of the images, referring of course to the not so distant past (See below. We’re in our 19th year of post Soviet Russia. One artist refused to have her image have “anything to do with communism.” It was Sarcasm, okay, Sugarpop? SARCASM)…Our view is that Russia is very far away from Soviet days and does not want to return to those days …even geopolitically. We believe Putin has been delicate in the Ukraine and did not have to be…We also realize this view is not widely shared…in this highly politicized time, in which, for the first time ever, millions of folks have their own media platforms (which is giving millions of folks looking at these media platforms some serous bad vibes right now). Somehow, through this current mess, I propose a toast….to a better relationship with both Russia and China. If we can do that and somehow improve conditions in the Middle East…the idea of a world getting together to solve its most pressing problems might one day actually not be so naive, however much, at this moment, that statement being realized seems still to belong to the “dim, not so distant future.” — Milon Henry Levine
MHL: Masha, the world’s been paying close attention to human rights issues in Russia. How much do you feel that art can improve the human rights situation there?
ME: Well, uh, in my community, between my friends I don’t feel any kind of problems with this stuff. I communicate with a lot with artists from Europe, the United States and different countries and we don’t even think about this. It’s more important to talk about art and to talk about dialogue for us. So I mean, if you ask me if it influences the dialogue for the moment …no it doesn’t influence it and I hope it will not influence it later. So I hope art will remain independent way of thinking and independent way of creating dialogue between people no matter where they live.
MHL: You speak and sing in 4 languages? Multi-culturalism seems to be an intricate part of your work…
ME: In concert, yes. There are songs in English, in German, French and Russian. For me, knowing a lot of languages means freedom of communication. I try to speak as many languages as possible, but for the moment I can say English, French and Russian are the languages I’m most fluent in. German I still have to study. I think that art is becoming more and more global. And I think in this situation we should have as much open dialogue as we could. And I wish my country actually can also become integrated into this open dialogue. I think it’s possible, and I’m really looking forward to a good future. Language helps to help any kind of country to be more open. So for me knowing many languages is the door to another mentality, to another culture and to understanding and feeling another point of view… as well as a way to share ideas and to live in a more comfortable world.