Ukrainian Artist's Dystopian and Surrealist Art
A Non-Conformist - Vachagan Narazyan
Authoritarians attack art that does not conform. It is about restraining intellectualism and creativity - two traits of human nature that challenge and pose a threat to power structures. It is about making sure that propaganda reigns, and dissent, if any, is silenced.
Take, for instance, Hitler. It is well documented that he made conscious efforts to ban and sabotage the works of renowned artists. The art which did not meet the ideal standards of Aryan society was deemed unacceptable and tagged 'Degenerate Art.'
Along the same lines, during Joseph Stalin's regime, the artists and creatives who defied the Stalinist ideologies were called 'Non-Conformists.' The artists who did not paint the middle-class men working hard and being happy were termed as traitors and enemies of the state.
Dr. Norton Dodge, an American, who worked for the United States in the Soviet Union, became the first to introduce the world to Non-Conformists outside USSR.
Dr. Dodge cunningly exported around 10,000 paintings of Non-Conformist to America, and that's how the art of Ukrainian artist Vachagan Narazyan came into the spotlight.
Vachagan Narazyan (1957), a Non-Conformist and contemporary Russian artist, who now resides in Ukraine, disagreed with the Social Realism style. Instead, his art speaks beyond cultures and timeframes.
His work is historical and futuristic. It is filled with fantastical creatures and elements of doomsday, dystopia, and childhood nostalgia. The muted color palettes speak of a gloomy ambiance.
When I saw his art, it instantly reminded me of a Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. I have written at length about his work.
See this blindfolded naked man, for instance. He carries a set of musical instruments on his shoulders. The wooden drums are visible. Even though he is blindfolded, his facial expressions narrate a different story. What could it be?
The scene is hazy, and the palette colors are subdued and smoky.
The girl stands on a surface, which seems to be her life carousel. A journey symbolizing light, goodness, and strength. In Narazyan's own words -
The girl - she is the angel of the carousel.
This is a carousel of time from a world of visions and theatre.
The surface of the carousel is a giant dial - a countdown back into the
world of childhood, a world of harmony, and an atmosphere of light and
This is Narazyan's world - dreamy and bizarre. The figures are intentionally obscure and might represent the state of his mind or an experience.
Narazyan says this picture is reminiscent of his childhood - 'Chapiteau.' A circus of his universe where Actors, horses, bulls, and Dames exist together and make an ideal world. He invites the viewer to enter a world where harmony exists.
An equestrian tames a wild horse - a metaphor for the union of male and female energies.
Narazyan defied the idealistic and happy state of Stalin. He constantly painted even when his art was deemed illegal and censored. He narrated the journey of human beings - their dreams, experiences, wilderness, emotions, and social harmony.
On the surface, Beksinski's and Narazyan's styles might look similar. However, in my opinion, although there is a sense of surrealist landscape in both their works, I guess Narazyan isn't necessarily only aiming for a dystopian narrative. Death isn't a recurring theme in Narazyan work. His paintings are also about childhood, love, and nostalgia.
His inspiration is eternal and even more so relevant in these tumultuous times. His art compels us to remember that we still have a chance to see the daylight again no matter what.
I wish Narazyan continues to bring his voice to the world through his paintings.
We need artists like Narazyan not only because they make us whole human beings but also because their ideas act as a protective factor against authoritarianism.
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