Short bio, where are you from, what is your background?

I’m a Russian-American artist, born in St. Petersburg, based in Pittsburgh, PA. I attained my BFA in Drawing and Painting at Carnegie Mellion University in 2009, and have been a practicing artist and art teacher for nearly fourteen years. I’m primarily a draftsperson or “drawer” who also creates acrylic paintings, ink wash work, and performance art.

Tell us about your project that is in the exhibition.

The two drawings in the exhibition, called Darkness and Light and Death and Vanity are about the process of transformation through the journey of motherhood. I found that my mental illness was exacerbated during and after pregnancy. My identity had completely shifted and felt subsumed by the new and relentless task of raising my daughter, and I had trouble reconciling this with my role as an artist. These drawings explore the different feelings I struggled with during the first two years of my daughter’s life.

What is your process like when your making work?

I ruminate over an idea for a long time. The process between roughing it or writing it out in my sketchbook and creating a completed work, whether it is a drawing, painting, or performance piece, takes many months. I find myself haunted by an idea and it feels like I’m gradually coming into an understanding of it before I create it. I oftentimes start with a simple image in my mind, still or moving, and without quite understanding what it means, I will create it and only later (many months or even years later) understand its concept.

How does mental health or wellness factor into the creation of your work?

I struggle with a duality of nature – my mental illness is an integral part of the creative force that lives within me and the way in which I execute my work, but it is often at odds with my role as a daughter, friend, mother, and partner. I create prolific amounts of work during periods of mania, which are then bookended by long periods of “rest,” in which I don’t make anything. How did you begin this project? As I said, these works were created as a response to my conflicting roles as a mother and an artist. I was working through my emotions and finding a way to reconcile those two aspects of my identity.

Was the process of creating this project helpful for dealing with the emotion or issue you're describing in your images?

I find making work extremely cathartic and can even feel depressed and restless if I feel a need to create and can’t carve out the time or place to do so. I liken it to a pacing tiger in captivity.

Has the pandemic shifted the way you approach your work at all?

I have a greater sense of where my priorities lie: in the dual roles of being with my daughter and creating art.

Has the stigma around mental health affected your art practice?

I wrestled with what was “wrong” with me for a long time before I found therapy and began on a path to understand myself better. Now that I’m beginning to understand how my brain functions, and that I am not broken or deficient, merely different, it has given me a greater sense of confidence and self-assuredness when I make work that reflects my experiences. I don’t second-guess myself nearly as much, but in the beginning, before I knew more about what my brain and mind were experiencing, I hid some aspects of myself within my work and didn’t want to reveal the extent of my struggles to my viewers.

How has stigma affected your life in general?

It has taken me a long time to learn to be open about my journey. Understanding how I function has allowed me to interact and explain myself better to my loved ones. I come from a culture where mental illness implies that you are defective, and it took me a long time to come around and speak to my family about what I was going through. In fact, it was my dad who found the therapist I have today, when I was struggling and admitted I needed help. Shame dies in the light. Stigma can only be eradicated if we normalize conversations around mental health and admitting to our vulnerabilities.

How do you think Art could help end stigma around mental illness and mental health?

For me, art has always been an honest and safe space in which I could express my struggles, whether I ended up showing it publicly or not. My mission in my own work is to give my viewer a place to lean into a feeling or an emotion. Though my work is deeply personal, I believe it’s through the personal that others can find a universal connection to their own experiences. Art can be a great equalizer and creating and looking at work allows for a spiritual connection among very disparate personalities. I’ve seen it occur in my classes, across all age groups.

Is there anything else you would like folks viewing your work to know about it or in general? What are your closing thoughts?

Have courage.

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