Embroidery As a Full Body Practice: interview with Victoria Sarangova6 min read

 In Culture, Interview, Russia
Lossi 36 sits down with Berlin-based artist and curator Victoria Sarangova. Sarangova’s installation, Motherland, is a series of embroidered images of women that represent Kalmyk history. Motherland was on display at Sarangova’s thesis show in 2014 and again in her home republic of Kalmykia, at Mu, the first-ever exhibition of contemporary Kalmyk art at the Amur-Sanan National Library in Kalmykia’s capital, Elista. This is just one of many conversations with curators from our new exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary. 

Congratulations on your new exhibit, Mu, which you curated with Gerel Puteeva, Kristina Dobr, Gerel Erendzhenova. Mu was one of the first exhibitions of contemporary art in Kalmykia. What was the process like?

I met Gerel Puteeva during an art residency in Bashkortostan. That’s where we got the idea to create the first contemporary Kalmyk art exhibition. Later on, Kristina Dobrokotova joined us. Then, Gerel Erendzhenova joined us. Gerel Erendzhenova is based in Elista. We had this core group of four members. We got a lot of support from our friends and other people who were interested in our exhibition.

We decided to gather art through an open call. The deadline was pretty short but we received many applications. Gerel Puteeva prepared a list of all the people that had applied and narrowed the list down from there. We weren’t really judges in the traditional sense. We wanted to stay as open as possible- open to new artists and new ideas. We were very accepting of all levels of talent. We also sourced some artists from Instagram. The artists themselves also helped us with the installation of the entire exhibition.

After selecting the participants, Todo Media got involved and promoted our event. We finally headed to Kalmykia. We had an idea of how the exhibition would run and the venue we’d host the exhibit in. In three days only, we managed to construct an entire exhibit. People from the community came to help. Tentmakers came out to help. It was such a joy and an amazing experience. All the locals that came together- the people we had already known, but also the artists, and all the new people that came together to make this exhibition a reality- were incredible. 

What was the reception from Kalmyks? And what about people abroad?

The reception was pretty good. We didn’t get any negative comments. Todo Media held interviews with us. We got a lot of enthusiasm and support. My artistic family here in Berlin were also very supportive. 

Motherland embroidery 

You also exhibited your series, Motherland, at Mu. Tell us more about Motherland, and the process.

Motherland was part of my dissertation work when I was studying in London. I made it in 2014. It was my first opportunity to show it in Kalmykia. The work itself is a series of four portraits, hand embroidered. Each one is a portrait of a woman that represents a particular stage in Kalmyk history. 

I chose this particular hand embroidery to showcase because I wanted to go through the process of reflecting through history that I wasn’t familiar with and wanted to personally learn. In this process, I found out that I did know a lot about myself and my republic. The reason it’s called Motherland is because the fourth portrait is my mother. She died in 2010 so it is a very personal work for me. 

There is an essay film that accompanies this work but I am not ready to show that part yet. I am so thankful for the opportunity to show it at home. It was made for my compatriots. 

Fourth panel in Motherland

You are based in both Berlin and Elista. Talk about your “home” in both places.

I spend more time in Berlin because of the pandemic. I don’t have many chances to travel freely back and forth. But, Elista is my homeland because I was born there and grew up there. I love it.

Berlin became my second homeland or zweite heimat, as they say. I feel very free and supported here. I managed to build up a particular support system here and I have the privilege of being surrounded by art, sound, and cultural events. I get to attend many seminars and lectures here. This is crucial to my art practice. 

You work with sound, music, multimedia, photography, and now, embroidery. Tell me more about your embroidery background.

Embroidery is what I primarily used in my installation, “Motherland”, but I don’t use it all the time.  I try to balance out the media. I don’t want to be labeled as a particular media artist. I learned how to embroider in my childhood. I used it as a therapeutic medium. Perhaps that’s why I chose it for the “Motherland” installation. I guess the real question for artists is, what is not therapeutic?

I was working as a professional embroidery artist in fashion contexts. I did some internships at fashion houses like Alexander McQueen, Hand & Lock, and couture. But then I moved to Berlin and put that on hold. Berlin is not a fashion capital. Now I work as a teacher, and I’m glad, although embroidery remains very important to me because it involves the whole body. 

You run Studio Sarangova, where you produce bespoke hand embroidered works. Tell me about the garments that you’ve been working on and latest collaborations.

Studio Sarangova is a project that’s taking off slowly. I’m pursuing a new career right now as a kindergarten teacher so I can’t devote much time to Studio Sarangova. Initially, Studio Sarangova was a project that dealt with upcycling clothes. 

My last project was a series of sweatshirts that I made for my friends and me. 

Motherland installation

What’s next for you? What shows are coming up for you? What can fans of your work expect next from you?

I am now working on a sound work that is dealing with the questions of identity. It questions who a person is who grew up in the ’90s in Kalmykia and Russia. It deals with all the different sounds and sound effects of the personal and political. It asks, how did all those sounds sound like to me? How did my body perceive them and how would I now express those sounds? That is the main point. I am trying to answer these questions through the body and sound perspective.

At the moment, I also am attaining a master of the arts at the University of the Arts in Berlin. My Master’s is in Art in Context. The show is taking place now.

Next, I want to continue working with artists in Berlin and invite other artists from Kalmykia to join us. We are working on a series of performances and art events. It will happen very soon. 

Thank you for your interest and I hope we will meet one day in person!

You can follow Victoria Sarangova’s work on Instagram and view Lossi 36’s virtual exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary.

Featured image: Victoria Sarangova / Katherine Leung
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