Russian street artist Tima Radya on anti-war resistance

oD: Videos of municipal agents violently disassemble the letters speak for themselves.

TR: Yes, only the videos will remain. You know what they say, “We’ll be forgotten by time, well, damn it!” [A lyric from a song by Belarusian hip-hop band UNNV, ‘Killed, But Not By You’].

OD: What are your influences?

TR: Music influenced me a lot. I started listening to bands like Rage Against the Machine and Contra la Contra when I was in school. This led me to anarchist ideas.

I grew up in anti-fascist circles, with Ilya Kormiltsev’s zines and publishing house [a Russian poet, translator and publisher, most famous for having worked as a songwriter for popular rock band Nautilus Pompilius], who was very active and published good books, now banned. I managed to absorb them. And when I started to study philosophy, it allowed me to understand ideas in depth.

In addition, there is the charge that music and anarchism have given me.

There is an expression: “people with a strong sense of justice”. I don’t think that’s an entirely correct description. This sense of justice is either present in a person or it is not. And I have it. Everything I talk about comes from this feeling.

It’s actually very helpful, because when you think of justice and society, you think of those who, say, are weaker, poorer, less educated, or have a serious physical problem. And supporting all these people, in my opinion, makes for a successful, humane and advanced society. I work as an artist, but somehow these are my values.

oD: How did Ekaterinburg become the Russian capital of street art?

TR: It is important to understand that the concept of “the capital of street art” was created by people who wanted to offer something that the authorities would like. I learned this fairly recently and have always been put off by this wording.

If we have a street art capital, should we make a street art Kremlin and a street art tsar?

oD: Tell us about the functioning of the street art community in Russia. From the outside, it looks like a tight-knit institution that has its own festivals and expresses itself regularly and loudly.

TR: It’s definitely not an institution. They are people who work and are engaged in a creative practice. They don’t work indoors [a structure] but outside. I wouldn’t say they share a strong ideological affinity. They are rather small groups, so they are always effective.

Small teams appear in Russian cities. They are independent of each other. But even a small team can do a lot. New creators are constantly appearing. It is a movement that cannot be stopped. Its fragmentation plays an important role. If you have some kind of structure, it can be overpowered, directed, and beheaded. If it’s something horizontal, then it’s running through your fingers – you won’t catch it. It is important.

OD: You and other artists participate in auctions and donate the profits to human rights activists. What percentage of income do you give them?

TR: Half to human rights activists, and the other half to us. We are in the same boat. We live in a police state, which is going through a critical moment for its existence. Citizens are under maximum pressure. Yet, to my surprise, we still have some kind of support system. This means that we must support the existence of these organizations. They helped me and my friends.

OD: How did they help?

TR: When I was detained, I was assisted by a lawyer from the Apology of Protest [an organisation offering legal help to detained protesters].

Without this lawyer, of course, it would have been more difficult. [In April 2021, Radya was sentenced to 39 hours of compulsory work for taking part in a pro-Navalny protest in January.]

oD: What is the highest sum that one of your pieces has sold for?

TR: Tens of thousands of euros [for the piece ‘If only I could embrace you, but I’m just a text’]. Not a fabulous sum.

oD: It depends on how you see it.

TR: It depends on what you compare it to. How much is a tank worth?

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