Polina Osipova forges armor for Chuvash warrior women from her past

Gucci-approved multidisciplinary Russian artist holds first exhibition at Hoxton Gallery

To be an artist today is to be an architect of your own online and offline universe. It’s not just about making things, but also telling your stories, honoring your track record, and finding a way to project your voice into the great global chorus of creativity. This is precisely what Russia-based Chuvash artist Polina Osipova does, whose unique approach combines heritage, craftsmanship and dynamic vision.

Based in St. Petersburg, Polina Osipova is a perfect combination of a creator and a digital storyteller. His pieces are often objects to be worn, inseparable from the artist: headdresses adorned with pearls, embroidery and silver coins; body jewelry with photos from her family archives; miniature sculptures of wire and seashells that become extensions of your fingers.

The things she makes are part of her identity, but also artefacts to travel through time and space – from the wilderness of Russia, to the depths of mystical forests, to the small room in which she works. . By reinterpreting Chuvash traditions and stories and combining them with contemporary pop cultural references, Osipova transports her audience to her world through her immersive storytelling.

Today Osipova launched its very first international exhibition, having won the annual Cothinkers Award earlier this year. Taking place at the Hoxton Gallery in East London, two floors of photographs, sculptures, headdresses, moving images, symbolism and text reflect the artist’s world in a particularly creative way. Like many Gen Z artists, Osipova is typically her own curator, set designer, and producer, and while the boundaries of a gallery may seem inspiring, collaborative, and exciting, artists now thrive on the idea that everything and everything does. anything can be an exhibition space.

“Like many teenagers who felt like black sheep and who grew up in small towns all over Russia, I found the freedom to express myself on social media,” she explains. On the Instagram page she has been using to showcase her work since 2014, Osipova can be seen interacting with the pieces she makes: trying on armor decorated with photos framed in pearls, or posing with a huge silver and glittering sword at the in the middle of a vast countryside of fields.

The artist has not always found magic in the banality of everyday life and the traditions handed down by his elders. Growing up in the Russian Republic of Chuvashia, west of the Volga, Osipova spent a lot of time in nature in her grandmother’s small village. It was here that she learned many of the trades she now operates, such as embroidery and needlework, all of which are passed down from generation to generation among Chuvash women.

As a teenager, she wanted to flee her roots and settle in the city, which she did at 16 in St. Petersburg. Soon, however, her story catches up with her, as she turns to the skills she learned as a child to ground herself in her hectic new city life. “I started doing art to find peace and calm and get out of a depressive period,” she explains. “Since I started at the time, I haven’t stopped. The process is important to me, it’s like meditation. Showing my work is a way of documenting – it’s like a trace of the past and also the start of a new job, ”she adds.

“I am very honest in what I share. I try to use my platform to teach people that Russia is not just a Slavic country – there are over 180 ethnicities with their own native lands, languages ​​and traditions. I want to show how different our lives can be, even in the same country ”- Polina Osipova

In recent years, Polina’s work has snowballed on social media, resonated with followers around the world, and even caught the attention of big brands like Gucci. “I think the reason people react to my work is that our world is so globalized,” suggests the artist. “I think people are generally drawn to honesty, and I’m very honest in what I share. I also try to use my platform to teach people that Russia is not just a Slavic country – there are over 180 ethnicities with their own native lands, languages ​​and traditions. I want to show how different our lives can be, even in the same country. In the future, I would like to collaborate with people who integrate traditional craftsmanship into their creative work in different places around the world.

In her work, Polina merges different types of narration: fiction and documentary, archival and contemporary. Chuvash folk tales from her childhood mingle with the paper-cut cartoons that she herself made, and the stories of women in her family mingle with legends of female warriors who are said to have lived along the Volga. Traditional costume also plays a big role: the Chuvash national female dress includes a large amount of silver coins, and complete looks often weigh more than 30 kilograms.

In Polina’s works, authentic embroidery and clothing are combined with more playful objects as she puts her own imprint on things. It’s a fascinating story about the complexity of Russian and Soviet history and about being indigenous under the weight of the dominant culture. At the same time, it is also about the fact that history does not always have a place in the museum – the possibility of reclaiming your history, inside or outside the walls of the gallery.

“Cothinkers Annual Prize 2021: Spotlight Polina Osipova” takes place October 27-30 at Hoxton Gallery London, E2 7JN

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