Punk art collective merges political activism and streetwear in Russia
Photography Sasha Chaika.
Since its creation in 2017, the freewheel fashion collective Kultrab has taken care of a myriad of social issues that have Russia. Whether it is to call for reform of drug laws, LGBTQ + rights or environmental activism, Kultrab has emerged as a substantial force for political and social change.
“Kultrab’s mission is to develop activism through culture and fashion, and thus start a chain of changes across the world, ”says Sasha chaika, a recurring collaborator of Kultrab and an avant-garde artist based in Saint Petersburg. “It’s a small victory every time we see someone who, thanks to us, discovered a problem and then took a step of their own to help solve it.
Alina Muzychenko and Egor Eremeev first founded the collective to help the crowdfund for MediaZona—An independent journalism site focused on Russian police brutality and injustice. It was founded three years earlier by Marie Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy riot.
“For the site, we designed clothes with the words “ it will get worse ” (Будет хуже) that were there, and this drew a lot of attention to MediaZona a younger audience that wouldn’t necessarily read their articles, ”Eremeev tells me. “We have realized that with the help of the clothes, we can speak out on social issues and support projects and nonprofits that deal with important issues.”
These issues include a partnership with the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, which promotes a humane drug policy in Russia. “The foundation is little known and subject to state repression,” says Kultrab. “At the same time, drug users are one of the most stigmatized groups because society believes that there is no need to help them because they themselves are supposed to be responsible. Russian prisons are filled with a third of drug-related prisoners, mostly consumers and petty traders. “
Kultrab released a collection in collaboration with the artist 9cyka, with discounts for those who have also signed up to make a regular donation to the foundation. “It aroused a great resonance in the media and among the ordinary Russian people, because this issue really concerns everyone here – the police can plant drugs on you, then put you in prison or extort money from you, ”explains the collective. “We organized a great event with organized conferences and open discussions, supported by Moscow musicians such as IC3SPEAK and 555trax555. “
This event, called Russia 228 Day, drew a crowd of over 3,000 people and took place on June 12, the official Russian holiday. 228 refers to Article 228: the very controversial criminal law on narcotics which has been used as a method lock up dozens of activists and journalists, and in 2018 alone, has led to more than 100,000 imprisonments of non-violent offenders.
Other projects put together by Kultrab include documentary films made with the director Mary plevitskaya and producer Valya Dekhtyarenko, like Шконка вместо школки (Prison bed instead of a school bench), which centers a 14-year-old teenager named Kirill Kuzminkin, who was jailed for a year for holding anarchist beliefs. Another movie, Строгий режим (Strict regime), is about Jan Sidorov and Vlad Mordasov, two young activists sentenced to prison terms of over six years for exercising their human rights through peaceful protests.
“In March 2020, we published a feminist calendar with the activist Polina Titova, replacing patriarchal holidays with activist holidays, ”say Muzychenko and Eremeev. “And right now, we are part of a campaign to support the activist Yulia Tsvetkova, who faces six years in prison.
Another past project –Я себя люблю (I love myself)—Created with the photographer Emmie America and journalist Sima piterskaia, documents three queer youth and their lives under Russian LGBT propaganda law, or the “anti-gay law”, which endangers LGBTQ + people in Russia on a daily basis. It is a series of portraits and interviews that inspire acceptance and self-love, in Russian and English.
The majority of these projects are funded by their tongue in cheek merch, released in street wear-style drops. “We are an independent group: we have no sponsors. Clothing is a way of attracting attention and earning a minimum of money to fund ourselves and the small team we work with, ”explains Muzychenko. “We produce clothes in tiny drops – each expressing some sort of political or militant statement – because we don’t believe in manufacturing large quantities, which we believe is harmful to the planet.
This concern for the planet is at the forefront of the group’s latest company – a art project combined with documentary photos by Sasha Chaika called Mutation of the Black Sea coast. He speaks of the “damage inflicted by mankind” on the planet, especially in Russia, where people don’t believe in climate change.
“Alina and Egor invited me to shoot a campaign for their new collection, which is called ‘I want to hug you, but I can’t», Said Chaika. “The collection was produced in collaboration with the designer Evgeniya Egereva and artist OUR.V. As a guest artist, I developed this story in the sense of transforming people – imagining certain mutations that would reflect a post-apocalyptic world, and how people might change and adapt to new living conditions during such uncertain times.
Chaika was particularly inspired by the text of Donna Haraway of 1985 A cyborg manifesto. “In the future, humans are going to merge more and more with our environment and with technology,” he says. “The ‘body’ will develop, from further enhancements and hormonal experiences, and in the process, each part of us will become more meaningful. We can be who we want to be.” Filming for this project took place over three weeks on the Black Sea coast – near where the 2014 Olympics took place – with the intention of exploring just how our post-quarantine reality might be odd, while still placing Russia’s environmental crisis under Chaika’s lens. The team ended up crashing into eight different homes, and truly immersed themselves in the fascinating Krasnodar Territory – where they also held an open casting for the local models of the project.
“With the environment in Russia, everything is relatively bad,” Eremeev said, adding, “People here don’t take the idea of global warming very seriously. In big cities, the air is very dirty. “But also,” in the last three years we have seen more and more protests related to the environmentWith younger and younger activists adding their voices to calls to action.
“After everyone has gathered [by the Black Sea], we realized that we wanted this campaign not only to be a form of artistic expression, but to become a complete project that could highlight the problems we are facing – the insufficient water supply in Novorossiysk and Gelendzhik , [a massive oil spill, minimized by Russian authorities], the death of dolphins, which we saw on the shore, and of birds unable to fly due to fuel contamination. “
This summer in Russia – in neighboring countries Belarus, and generally, the world feels like a summer soaked in gasoline, a lost match far from catching fire. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and growing unemployment, some young people in Russia feel particularly depressed. “Putin organized a recent vote to amend the Constitution, the aim of which was to give him the right to be elected for two more terms. The voting period lasted several days without supervisors, and without the possibility of verifying the results – and the governor of the only region where the results were reported more or less precisely, was removed from his post and Jailed.“
“Right now, the world is going through a global transformation,” says Kultrab. “Now we want to prove that a fashion brand is not just about producing beautiful clothes – a brand can build community and act in ways that lead to real change.”
This interview has been translated from Russian.
Photography Sasha chaika
The producers Alina muzychenko & Egor Eremeev
Assistant producer Lena grechka
Styling Alina muzychenko & Sasha chaika
Make-up and hairstyle: Sasha Zhelonkina & Darya esenina
Fashion design Evgeniya Egereva
Artist Anton Spirikov, OUR.V
Special thanks to: Roma Uvarov, Beinopen, Olya Lermontova, Nat Kukina, Sasha Manakina, Roma Varum and Ruslan Ivanov.