Three years ago, a group of Muscovite students formed a guerilla art movement with very clear goals – provocation, cultural ridicule and humour. The group, Voina (Russian for War) were inspired by the Soviet dissident artist, Dmitry Prigov. Not dissimilar to the internationally renowned street artist Banksy, (if he kept getting sent polonium sandwiches) these students have staged numerous controversial, and often witty, performances predominantly in Moscow and St. Petersburg and support for their movement began to gain international momentum with their orgy, “Fuck for the heir – Puppy Bear!” in honour of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s handpicked heir to the Russian presidency, and his then impending inauguration (President Medvedev’s surname is derived from the word bear).
Their astute social commentary focuses on mocking the most oppressive and powerful features of the Russian federation. As their website states, they exist to encourage the “subversion and destruction of outdated repressive-patriarchal socio-political symbols and ideologies.” A prime example of this can be seen in their 2008 performance when an activist dressed up as half cop half priest strutted around a supermarket.
He proceeded to load up a trolley up with vodka, whiskey, biscuits and the pastor’s choice, Maxim. Then, he took his spoils without paying. The staff did not know how to react as they were face to face with a pastiche of Russian impunity, the inseparable Church and State.
Voina also made a very solemn statement against the former Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov. Luzhkov, infamous for his corruption, homophobia, vulgar taste in art and general xenophobia, was targeted by the group’s performance “In memory of the Decemberists – a present to Yuri Luzhkov.” In a central hypermarket, the group staged a mock execution of immigrant workers and homosexuals, a comment on two of the most vulnerable groups in Russian society which endure frequent violence, something which flourished under Luzhkov.
Thank you for being a friend
Earlier this summer, Voina gave a literal “Go Fuck Yersel” to the FSB (widely regarded as the KGB, rebranded) by painting a 65m high and 27m wide gargantuboab, entitled “Dick Captured by the FSB!” onto the Liteiniy drawbridge, which leads to the FSB headquarters in St. Petersburg (Erofeeva – Photo 29 anyone?).
Big Boab is WATCHING YOU
Done in the heart of both Putin and Medvedev’s home, the cock satirises “the unconquerable Russian phallus” and the absurdity that ordinary people must cow-tow to the heavily asserted power of the state’s cock n’baws.
Inevitably, Voina has incurred the wrath of the state as activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Lenja Nikolaev were arrested last month in Moscow for political hooliganism by the “anti-extremism” police. Their arrest was in connection with a performance in St. Petersburg entitled “Palace Revolution” where they turned several police cars upside down as a protest against the endemic malpractice of the Russian police force.
They have been in prison in St. Petersburg ever since. Domestic support for the group has dwindled as the majority Russian art circles tend towards glamour and conformism. However, the works of Voina have indeed attracted the attention Banksy, who has vowed to contribute all the proceeds from his next print sale to Voina. This in itself provides a very potent platform for Voina as their cause can now benefit from Banksy’s reputation, casting a spot light on their cutting performances and the state’s handling of its case against them. Voina’s war against state oppression and soulless art is now facing its largest battle to date and international support for their guerilla art tactics is one of their most valuable weapons. Russia may have secured the World Cup, but Voina has secured a world coup.
Bonus : Speaking of soulless art, here’s what Voina are up against.
All quotes taken from free-voina.org where a much more detailed list of their exploits can be found