“Russian Ghetto with Asian Faces”: youth, rage, and ghetto subcultures with Kalmyk artist Hulhachi3 min read

 In Culture, Interview, Russia
Hulhachi is an art student who recently participated in Mu, the first contemporary art exhibition of ethnically Kalmyk artists in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. Lossi 36 sits down with Hulhachi to talk about youth, rage, and the ghetto subcultures that play a huge role in his life and his republic. This is just one of a series of conversations with artists in our new exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary

What’s your art background? 

I’m a fine artist who goes by “Hulhachi.” I’m a third-year art college student in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. 

What are you influenced by in your art?

I am influenced by everything that surrounds me – that could be dreams, places, or people. I’m influenced by everything.

Cheese. Oil paint on canvas.

Tell me about this painting, titled Cheese

This painting is about my anger. As a child, I created an amazing painting for an art contest. In my opinion, it was excellent. I was 100% confident that I would win the art contest. When the moment came for the winner to be announced, I could feel my smile growing and growing. Inside, I felt like jumping up and down for joy, thinking ‘Yeah! Hand over the prize and let’s finish this!’ But when the winners were announced, my hopes were shattered. I was so mad and felt only rage. I couldn’t even stand up properly. They called me in for a consolidation diploma, and that broke me even more. The joke was that no one was awarded first or second place at the competition. Only third place was announced. So this painting, Cheese, encapsulates my rage. I tried to capture that moment in my head, filled with negative thoughts. Honestly, it was named “Cheese” to distract me from the negative. 

This painting is symbolic of the larger oppression of young people in Kalmykia. The odds are stacked against young people. There are so many aspects of society that aren’t fair. In other cities across Russia, I’ve faced harsh racism. People in my own country will call me Chinese. I’ve heard comments like “go back to China” on the streets. 

Orange sun and meanies. Oil, acrylic, midges, and marker on canvas.

Tell me about your latest work, Orange sun and meanies.

In this painting, I contrast two things that I love: oranges and “meanies.” Oranges are my favorite fruit and an obvious symbol for the sun. My town, Elista, is often called a Russian ghetto with Asian faces.’ Almost all my friends, Asians included, are a part of this ghetto subculture. I don’t want to be a part of it, so this painting is a commentary about how ingrained it is in our culture and how it creeps into the beauty of Kalmykia as well. 

This subculture is also known as the Russian underground. There are criminal groups that run Kalmykia with frequent conflicts for territory. Prisoners are in charge of these gangs. In Elista, we have the Kalmykian version of the Russian mafia. Instead of offering protection, we see them contributing to the degeneration of our culture.

Your art has a lot of strong statements about Kalmyk culture. What do you hope that your work and participation in shows like Mu and Lossi 36’s virtual exhibit, Kalmyk Contemporary will accomplish?

Most Russians do not know much about Kalmykia. It’s hard to believe that people aren’t aware of entire republics inside their own country. Therefore, I’m a supporter of increasing the popularity of Kalmyk culture and our accomplishments. We’ve lost our writing and almost all of our language. I really do not want Kalmyk culture to be lost. I’ll speak up and promote the story of my people whenever possible, especially through art. What kind of artwork? Well, that remains a mystery…

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

Featured image: Hulhachi / Katherine Leung
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