The Liberatum spell

Only Liberatum can touch upon feminism in Russia, literature and modern day cinema all in one go.

It was quite a surreal, captivating, intense sight. So intense that almost automatically every word spoken in the room was reduced to a whisper. Visions of naked women dangling and tangled or sprawled next to bleeding, butchered meat that takes your breath away with its vulgarity and then grips you with the sadness it portrays. 

The pictures were taken by Svetlana K-lie, a feminist Russian photographer and artist, who believes strongly in the equal rights and dignity of women. Taking the idea of treating women like commodities literally, Svetlana shines a light on widespread prostitution in Russia and female inequality. “The voice of woman in Russia is the most important and most devalued. [It is] Russia’s biggest asset,” she says.

The energy and vibe of the Svetlana’s work echoes that of the supposedly blasphemous “punk prayer service” at Christ the Savior Cathedral by the Russian feminist group Pussy Riot a few months ago. Videos of the performance yielded mixed responses from the extreme (calling for offenders to be “publically flogged” according to the New York Times) to mild disgust – obviously they hit a nerve.

These bold expressions of feminism stemming from Russia are a result of something larger in the country. According to the International Human Development Gender Inequality Index, Russia ranks 59th on the Gender Inequality Index, not far behind Cuba (58), Kazakhstan (56) and Oman (49). While the gender gap is not as wide in Russia as more patriarchal places, like Saudi Arabia (135) or Iran (92), the feminism is perhaps more focused on female dignity and perception than rights themselves.

Sure, Russian women have easy access to education and the labour work force; however, sexual harassment and violence are still major issues. And, of course, the women share the same frustrations as men, who took to the streets earlier this year in anti-government protests.

Svetlana’s horrifically wonderful work was displayed at Liberatum Hong Kong, a global cultural festival (more like a feast for the culture junkie) founded and put together meticulously by Pablo Ganguli. Liberatum has previously graced Turkey, India and, in fact, Russia. During the last week of April, the festival breathed life into the nascent culture and art scene in Hong Kong.

Alongside Svetlama’s gallery, Liberatum also invited Nobel laureate Sir VS Naipaul whose presence made for another surreal experience. The man of such gigantic stature, known for his raging literary prowess, looked frail as he was wheeled in to read an excerpt from his book The Masque of Africa. But appearances are deceiving: it takes a strong man to feel like he can cry in public, which he did half way through the reading, and his intellectual capacities are far from frail, which he displayed during his interview with Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling. "It takes a rational mind to be without fear," he said. And rational he is.Though his voice was soft, his words were not and they resonated across a room filled with an audience hanging on each one.

Perhaps, in a twist of fate, the images of haunting female degradation displayed in the gallery a few floors up, juxtaposed the formidable and strong image of Naipaul’s wife Nadira Naipaul who stood behind him upright and bright, like his spine, and picked up where he stopped reading.

Then came a discussion about film and cinema. Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader took the stage with Mike Figgis, and Chinese filmakers Daniel Wu and Nansun Shi to discuss why perhaps "Hollywood is dead." In an increasingly online world, explained Schrader, Hollywood as we know it will start to fade. Of course, his statement rings true at a time when a silent, black and white French film stole the scene at the Oscars this year purely because of that novelty factor, said Schrader.

Other big names at the festival include rapper, singer and designer Pharrell Williams and unconventionally attractive Spanish actress Rossy de Palma to name a few, all sharing insights from their respective fields.

When all these high calibre people come together, you get nothing but magic that leaves you with a surreal, captivating and intense feeling.

Alisha Haridasani

Source: The Oloo Blog