'I did not expect that I would walk in sarafans'
What fate awaits Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar costumes, and whether there is a place for folk costumes in modern urban culture?
The Mardzhani Institute of History (Kazan) and the Street Art Research Institute (St. Petersburg) held the online conference 'Search for the image of the city. Humanities in Urban Art and Environmental Design'. Two performances were devoted to the role of folk costumes in modern urban culture. Realnoe Vremya offers to read the report of the expert researcher of street art, Anna Nistratova, in which she compares the fate of Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar everyday outfits.
Sarafan as an object and outfit
I'm an immersive scientist. I do research in practice. My last practice is walking in everyday life in a Russian costume. And I'll tell you how it happened to me. I am both the object and the subject of this report.
The definition from Wikipedia about what is the traditional national costume is is as follows: “a traditional complex of clothing, shoes and accessories that has developed over the centuries, which was used in everyday and festive use. It has noticeable features, depending on the specific region, gender, purpose (festive, wedding and everyday), and age (children, girls, married women, elderly women or men)".
This can be illustrated with pictures of a Japanese kimono or an Indian sari. These are the items of clothing that you can instantly identify a representative of a particular ethnicity.
The Nizhny Novgorod site made a material about my wardrobe, which caused an incredible response from people. I became an expert in the field of costume, although in fact, I am part of the team of the Street Art Research Institute and together with everyone I take part in the Almetyevsk project “Tales of Golden Apples”. I am an artist consultant and work with the sketching part when creating murals and objects.
This material was important for me to do and I thank the team of The Village for making it happen. A traditional costume is not something that only I possess. These are things that many women and some men who are engaged in folklore or ethnography have. But they don't wear them in everyday life. Russian costume in everyday life is quite difficult to meet.
How Almetyevsk makes you look for yourself
I will tell you how it happened to me, because, of course, I never expected that I would walk in sarafans in everyday life. I was born and raised in Moscow. My father comes from a small village in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, my mother — from Belgorod Oblast. All my ancestors were farmers. They migrated to Moscow, as many did then — in the late 1960s, where they met, where my sister and I were born. My grandparents died long before I was born. I had no family memory.
When I started doing research on street art and got to Nizhny Novgorod, I was so impressed by everything there... It is difficult to describe this effect. When I started working with local street artists and started visiting museums, I came across the phenomenon of Nizhny Novgorod peasant culture. I happened to visit the museum of the history of art crafts in Nizhny Novgorod and was deeply shocked by the quantity and quality of the aesthetic works. I immediately realised that the myth that was created by the Soviet ideology about the downtrodden peasantry, about the poor, unhappy, terribly suffering peasantry that the revolution freed from the hated tsar, is a complete lie.
I had the feeling that I had been robbed. I didn't know anything about this culture. When I started doing visual research, I had a theory that the Nizhny Novgorod street artists who were then actively working on the streets — they were all young people, up to 23-25 years old, but had already created a lot by that time. I came up with the theory that they are the unconscious heirs of the pre-revolutionary culture of this region.
I came with this idea to Anna Markovna Gor, the director of Arsenal ,and she said me to do the research. It took 3 years, and we did the “Fresh Layer” exhibition at Arsenal in 2017.
Here is an example of the exhibition. “Burden” by Andrey Olenev and “Barge Haulers on the Volga” by Repin. The similarity, in my opinion, is obvious.
In this way, this part of my life was revealed to me, which I did not expect. At the same time, my own sister, Svetlana Vlasova, went to the studio for the reconstruction of the Russian traditional costume “Russian Origins”. The studio has existed for 25 years. Such centres exist not only in Moscow. Many people sew such ethnographic costumes. Our interest developed in parallel, and my sister's experience greatly enriched my research. When you see how a Russian costume is created, it is very impressive.
When we started working in Tatarstan, which is in a passionate search for its own identity, the desire to find its own identity developed in me. My sister sewed a lot of dresses, they were beautiful hanging in the closet, I thought — why not wearing them in everyday life. My experiment, which has been going on for 2-3 years, began.
Tatar costume — variety, delegate, reconstructed ones
Next, I would like to tell you about the situations in which you can find a traditional costume in everyday life and I would like to make an overview of what is happening now in Tatarstan, Ukraine and Russia.
I collected pictures of what is happening now with the Tatar costume. The first situation is sabantuy. This is a variety version of the costume, well known to everyone.
The second photo is the congress of Tatar women in 2017. I like that they are all in kalfaks, I like the subject itself — very elegant. It is significant that at the official event there is a symbolic item of folk costume.
Next — the reconstruction of Tatar costume. This is a photo from Pechen Bazary — a festival of Tatar culture, where young people create a Tatar Look on their own. The photo shows our artist Guzel Garipova, who worked with us in Almetyevsk.
And this is the shooting of the Millihasite project. They make amazing reconstructions of jewelry and costumes, just phenomenal things.
I would also like to tell you about the situation with the Ukrainian and Russian costume. It is worth comparing them. Because all of us — post-Soviet countries, republics, and peoples — are at the same starting point.
In Ukraine, the national costume has now become a part of everyday life, an integral part of the holiday. National costume in Ukraine is worn by everyone. Harpers Bazaar, Vogue magazines give recommendations on what to wear on Independence Day, print reviews of costumes from different regions.
Ivan Franko as trendsetter
In Ukraine, the history of the costume as a symbol of nationality began at the end of the 19th century. It was started by Ivan Franko, who was a skilled linguist, writer, scientist, public and political figure. He began to wear an embroidered shirt in everyday life. Both then and later, the shirt was a symbol of belonging to the village. The intelligentsia of that time began to use the symbol as a manifestation of their Ukrainian identity.
After the revolution, Western Ukraine was part of Poland until 1939. From 1925 to 1938, the women's magazine Nova Khata was published there. It was created for intelligent women. There were patterns of fashionable outfits with antique embroidery. One of the publishers said that Western Ukrainian women do not want to wear embroidery, because it is a sign that you are from a village.
Then there was the Soviet Union. In the USSR, there was such a national costume, everything was averaged. In the case of Ukraine, for example, a girl in a suit of Poltava Oblast, and a guy in a Hutsuls costume.
Recently, Vyshyvanka Day was held in Ukraine. President Zelensky published a photo about which Ukrainian folk costume collector and educator Ulyana Yavna wrote on Instagram: why is there no cultural consultant in the president's office who would advise him about the shirt? Because the shirt he's wearing looks like a Russian kosovorotka. The president made a little mistake. If you know the history of the embroidered shirt as a Ukrainian symbol, it becomes clear why people are offended — they want to see Ukrainian embroidery on the president.
What about Russian costume?
Russian Russian costume art critic Andrey Borovsky has a lecture on “Alternative History of Russian Costume”. He shows how the Russian costume has become what it is now.
Catherine II began to crystallise this image. She was German, but she was a Russian tsarina. She began to wear luxurious Russian costumes. She introduced the etiquette when the courtiers must also wear Russian dress. In the picture, we see that the ladies-in-waiting are dressed in fashionable dresses, but with a neo-Russian silhouette, and they are decorated with kokoshniks.
This is a photo of the Russian ball in 1903, when the costumes were specially created for this holiday. They went to the people in hundreds of photos, as well as in the form of playing cards.
The peasant costume, which women wore in everyday or festive life, was not inferior to the aristocratic one. It was decorated with pearls, sewn from expensive fabrics. But this costume became interesting only at the end of the 19th century, there were collectors of traditional Russian costume — thanks to them, we have them in museums and collections.
Perhaps, we should state that from the Russian costume in our daily life, we have only the coloured Pavlovsky Posad shawl.
Now there are two versions of the Russian costume. Variety costume, usually it is a pseudo-sarafan. Sometimes with a Khokhloma pattern, so as not to be mistaken in the Russian style. And the ethnographic costume that can be found on the holidays of the peasant cycle, they again began to enter our everyday life — Maslenitsa, Easter, Peter's viewing. But the people who possess them do not wear such costumes in everyday life.
What will be next is unclear. The interest in folk culture is huge. Especially among young people. This can be explained by that everyone is tired of TV patriotism. Singing Russian folk songs is much more fun than singing something about May 9.
What will be next? So far, no one has tried to design a new Russian costume. Even the fashion historian Alexander Vasiliev asks: why does no one wear a sarafan? Why is the whole world in their suits, and the Russians — in T-shirts? The question remains open.
(Question from the audience: “What about the shoes?").
I wear sneakers, but I would like Tartar boots. But yes, such costumes are expensive. The philosophy of the costume used to be that each girl created a wardrobe for herself and her loved ones. The situation has not changed — it is long, it is expensive, it is a historical reconstruction. I have a hundred-year-old sarafan, but it is already not as it used to be, (so I keep it). Yes, it takes a lot of effort. But it's no more expensive than Louis Vuitton's.