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ART an der Grenze with: Sasha Bels

It is impossible to imagine Frankfurt's cultural landscape without Art an der Grenze. Because of the Corona pandemic, the festival had to be rescheduled this year: until 30th November, 2020, the works of the artists can be seen in the shop window at Kleine Oderstraße 5. Two Viadrina students are exhibiting their works, too: Sasha Bels and Roman Boichuk. We introduce the two of them to you.

Click here for the interview with Roman.

Sasha Bels comes from the Central-Russian city of Kazan and is artistically and politically active in many ways. Some of her drawings can be seen at this year's edition of Art an der Grenze. Many of Sasha's pictures address social phenomena and problems. We met the 25-year-old Master's student for an interview.

Sasha, you are not only a draughtswoman, but also a photographer and model. Where does your passion for art come from?

Honestly, I can't imagine a life without art by now. I always wanted to go to art school but my parents sent me to piano lessons. I hated that. 8 years later and after graduating from music school, I could finally concentrate on art. Actually, I only started painting intensively in the last years of school. I can't decide on what I prefer: taking photographs, painting or standing behind the camera myself.

What things inspire you in your work?

Many things: books, stories and people around me, but especially nature. It runs like a golden thread through my images. I am also very interested in politics and social events. I try to capture them in my pictures and invite the viewers into a dialogue. My pictures are my thoughts and my statements.

Some of your political illustrations are critical of the russian society. Which events are particularly important to you?

I was very affected by the constitutional change in Russia (editor's note: adopted by the parliament in mid-March 2020, it annulled the counting of Putin's previous terms in office among other things). The amendment was advertised with "traditional family values", religion, external security and internal stability. But in reality, it was about the expansion of the president's power. There were other things to do, for example, to fight homophobia and discrimination. Russia is increasingly becoming a totalitarian state where money and fear rule.

Your works exhibited at Art an der Grenze also deal with current events...

Exactly. One picture, for example tells the story of the Khachaturian sisters [link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khachaturian_sisters_case]. They were humiliated and sexually abused by their father for years. The father's relatives knew about it, but did not support the girls. One day, the daughters killed their father - in self-defence, they say. However in court they were charged as murderers and faced long prison sentences. It is one example of many that shows how domestic violence can end for the victims.

You are also actively involved in the fight against domestic violence. What actions are you planning for the near future?

Yes, I am mainly concerned with domestic violence in Russia. Since 2017, domestic violence has been partly decriminalised, in many cases it is only considered a misdemeanour, not a crime. It's a terrible situation for the victims, because violence is relativised. With my art, I want to show that violence should not be normal and that society should not turn a blind eye to it. I wanted to organise an artistic protest with friends, supported by the Helene Weber College. However, our painting evening and subsequent flash mob was postponed because of the pandemic. At the moment, it is more topical than ever, as a worldwide increase in domestic violence can be observed due to isolation and quarantine. I hope we can make up for our action in the summer or spring!

Interview by Robert Schwaß

More info on Art an der Grenze can be found here.

More pictures of Sasha Bels can be found here.

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