Interview for Inspringfolks
Interview with Uldus Bakhtiozina: How She Creates Magic and Breaks Stereotypes
Uldus, known as the first Russian speaker in TED, challenges gender and cultural stereotypes through her witty photographs. Last year she was named as one of Top 100 Women of 2014 year by BBC. Uldus recreates a narrative based on Russian folklore through magic and her own designs she sets forth in capturing a time when the earth was occupied by knights, fair maidens and the forest. The stories, full of pagan symbols, myths, and spooky settings, are brought into today’s reality. Uldus features characters like Baba Yaga and Ivan the Prince, who are familiar figures in Russian fairytales known throughout the world, so that we would think about the serious topics through playful prism. Uldus was kind enough to answer to some of my curious questions about her art, beliefs, thoughts and dreams.
Please, tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started as an artist?
I was born in USSR in 1986. My first degree was politics and I dreamt of becoming the first female president in Russia, though I still think it’s possible, I will try my way to it from the position of Minister of Culture, since it has to become contemporary and not so narrow as it is now. As an artist I started at the age of 3 or 4, started from clay sculpture and drawings, experimented with different medias for many years, until 2013 when I narrowed it to photography. Within photograpy I placed sculpture made by me, outfits, drawings and outfits – all I have skill for in one medium.
Do you remember when you took your first photograph?
I took it with my father’s analog camera. I was around 6 or 7, he asked me to photograph him. It was summer in country-side and I was very happy I was trusted to take this important mission. You seem to be on a true mission with your art. Is it so? I have responsibility for influence from my art. My mission is to keep people developing their brains, not boxing themselves in and always staying awake.
Uldus, you poke at stereotypes. Why?
People says I poke at ones, but I’m just sharing my vision as an experience on average world’s formulas and clichés around us. How did it happen that you took interest in stereotypes? I’ve been judged many times by people who prefer their lives and appearance to be in “standards”, especially russians prefer everyone to be alike. Since my teens I was blamed that I differ from the rest of my classmates and they took it as my trial to show my transcendence, meanwhile I just was being myself with no thinking of what I want to demonstrate, I was too young to analyze style, appearance, behavior or anything else, and I was crying at home, being silly and dreaming to be unite with everyone. But I could not, because I simply didn’t know what it is so different about me. Growing up in Europe proved to me that being different is actually better than not. And I just felt so much freedom. Being back to Russia, where stereotypes still rule on the society, I’m making fun about it and I have huge support from my friends for stories I cover through my photography.
Describe some stereotypes that you have based your art on.
Gender stereotypes are my favourite, there are a lot of have-to-do’s which became the subject for my works. Stereotypes of nationalities of course – I’m so racially mixed myself, so I can consider myself only as a human. Social judgement and mentality of nations are huge source of inspiration as well. My favorite thing is to do personal analytics on reactions from my audience. Normally that’s really funny statistics comparing europeans with russians: loads of europeans admire my work, russians from capitals (Moscow and Saint-Petersburg) respect my work, mid-age russian men from Northern part of Russia (oil capitals) write me aggressive mails shaming my art! I love them the most, because even though their mentality can accept a woman (a russian woman) so independent, honest and successful and so many people know her work, they can’t accept that at the age of 28 I am still unmarried and not even worried about it. And their way of thinking does not allow them to accept that someone thinks differently and shares it with the world.
You said in your TED-talk that it is not easy to be different in Russia. Why is it so?
I said “its not easy to be different, especially in Russia”. Different is very subjective. Just in Russia there are more subjects and less objects or personalities. Being different is not easy at any place, just in my country it’s more judgmental than in States for example. Homophobia, misogyny, material hierarchy are extremely high in my land, but it doesn’t mean we can’t change it. I’m experimenting with it, it’s not easy, but it has all chances to win.
You were born in a family with muslim father and christian mother. How have their beliefs influenced you?
It has influenced me in a way that there is one power of universe – love. That we can choose the god to pray to, the object, the substance, no matter – it’s most important that any religion or faith teaches us humanity and we should never forget it.
What do you believe in?
I believe in power of human energy. I’ve been learning many disciplines, I spent more than two years in Asia, learned their religions from buddhism to hinduism, I studied reiki and shamanism. I’m very well connected to many powerful people, some of them my gurus, but I know if I want something and even if someone says it’s not possible, I will push it and it will become real. When I was young (13 years old) I was hit by a car and I was told I will never run again or even be able to walk properly. It was many years ago, I rebuilt myself completely – I run every day at least 30 minutes. I am advanced yoga practitioner (and teacher in my past) for more than 7 years, I deadlift 60 kg, so no matter what people around believe in, each person is the universe with power to live the life as he or she wants to! I believe in myself. Selfism is my religion.
Do you have any rituals for your day?
Yes, but that is personal;) You have studied in England, lived in Asia and now you’re back in Russia. How has travelling changed you? I don’t really see that it has changed me, it has just proven me that the way I am is the right way. I realised that it doesn’t matter where you are, what matters is who you are and what you want to achieve. What is your favourite place and why? So many places I admire, but my favourite place is my house. I am very calm in there.
What do you love?
I love to prepare everything for photo shoot. The process of setting, choosing the model, crafting outfit, location search, everything – it makes me so happy and gives me that feeling of being blessed that I’m doing what I love to do and it feeds me. I love having morning coffee and answer mails in meanwhile. I love post and emails! It’s just so cool to communicate with people from all other the world! I love Cuban cigars. I’m smoker since I was 19 years old and I love being in Cuba. This small passion once helped me a lot, I was a student in London and in a situation with no money, but pretty big bills to pay. Since by that time I knew a lot about cigars and been to Partagas factory in Cuba, Robaina farm and smoked probably most of Cuban cigars brands, I found a job in Cigar Club in London and that really helped me survive at that time. I still smoke one or two per week – that is one of my meditations. I love to run. Love love love. It may be painful sometimes for me, but it cleans up my brain so well and keeps me tight! I love riding a motorbike (better if it’s an eco bike) in rice fields of Bali. I love to ride a bicycle at my country-side in Russia through the roads I used to do it in my childhood. I love watching the movements of shadows in early July’s mornings at the wooden celling in my summer house. I love cooking, especially for my man. I love my dog and everything we do together. I love taking wallpapers of the walls. It’s weird but I love it.
What would you tell the world?
What is your message? World, please don’t destroy yourself. But don’t calm down.
Author: Egle Loit