Policing Your City

“The sheriff can’t be fucked by the problems of Negroes”

Tsirk — Circus

africans in russia

A triptych of scenes from one the Soviet Union’s most popular films of all time Circus, in Russian Tsirk, the story of a female American Circus performer, shamed in the US by her illegitimate black child. She flees to Moscow and after a few ups and downs finds love and racial harmony in the Utopian state.


africans in russia

Pushkin in Africa — Pushkin

africans in russia

Russian sculptor Grigory Pototsky, below, presented a bust of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin to the Ambassador of Ghana at the Ghanaian embassy in Moscow. Why? Pushkin is a great son of Africa. He is the great-grandson of Abram Gannibal, an Ethiopian noble in the court of Peter the Great.


africans in russia

One of the scars left from a racist knife attack that left the liver punctured. The psychological scars are not so easily photographed.

Back, Shoulder, Ash

africans in russia

Malenkaya Vera, The Dormitory Scene

africans in russia

Vera and Sergei are greeted by African students at the dormitory. As mentioned in the previous post about the film.

Hip-Hop Dance Contest B-Boys

africans in russia

Here are some pics from the recent Made In Russia Battle 2009 hip-hop b-boy dance contest. Hip-hop with its roots in the 70’s black culture of New York City seemed a plausible draw for some of Moscow’s Africans. What I found among the Russians were two guys from France, two Brazilians, and a British DJ. It was an inclusive-style event with the master of ceremony making frequent shout-outs to the hip-hop universe, one world, one nation of all colors etc. Only once the Frenchmen heard chants of RO-SSI-YA RO-SSI-YA when things moved toward the final. In the us versus them dichotomy that gurgled up, they were the outsiders, the same Negroes as any Lumumba student.

Boobs & Blacks – Malenkaya Vera

africans in russia

Malenkya Vera, Little Vera, or Little Hope is the story of run-of-the-mill teen angst taking vengeance upon the family unit. We are shown the destructiveness of not listening to one’s elders. Rambunctious Vera with her garbled red-herring fancies ruins the lives of her mother, father, brother, and lover husband. She is left with nothing but stark failure and despair as the curtain drops. She has ruined her life as well.

With the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, one cannot help but recognize the ulcerous nature of this film. These and other “chernukha”, blackness, films of the era are dots from gastric juices, liver spots, symptomatic of the crumbling superpower. A failure of groupthink on the part of the censors. Or an ocean floor hotspot of Bakhtinian carnivalesque magma.

From this, it follows that Africans in the dormitory, and the small boy seemingly out of nowhere represent simultaneously both the liberation of Soviet society and its upheaval. But how is any of this evidence one way or the other of African identity under colonization in Russia?

First, the dormitory scene. Vera and her new husband Sergei are met with a surprise celebration in the dormitory. While Vera is charmed, Sergei is mortified. Here we must tip our hats to the censors who did not delete the scene, or perhaps even put it in. Remember, the Soviet film industry never ceases to be a machine of propaganda. The reaction of Vera and Sergei is not an artistic statement but a mandate to follow. The audience is being shown the proper way to understand Africans. Like Vera it is acceptable to be amused by their exotic nature. But be skeptical and wary of them like Sergei, they are different, and could be dangerous, keep them at a distance.

The origin of the little black boy, Chistyakova’s brother, goes unexplained in the film. It is never explicitly stated if he is the child of a Russian-African encounter, Africans, or just the Soviet Union.  He seems “Russian” enough and liked, or at least accepted by Vera whom he refers to affectionately as auntie, but the main scene when he sits and watches the Dr. Aibolit cartoon, a sing-song warning children against Africa for fear of crocodiles and gorillas,  is a curiosity. More accurately, a half-baked idea designed to draw attention to itself.

The boy is shown in close-up with food on his face. Is this supposed to show his inferiority, his slovenliness. He is not clean like a pure Russian child? Or do we think of him as just another kid and act on maternal compulsion to wipe off his face. It would be fair to side with the second assertion were he not watching this specific cartoon. He could be watching any number of others but he is not. An African boy is watching a cartoon warning kids not to go to Africa. It’s senseless and mildly absurd. There is no deeper meaning, it’s simply an advertising gimmick. Like minutes earlier when Vera bears her breasts, it is sensational with no intrinsic or artistic value in its own right. The film would not alter in the slightest without this scene.

Africans in Malenkaya Vera are members of an exotic other-world, foreign and alien, “them” not “us”, peculiar beings from outside reality as it is prescribed to be. By promoting their stranger status we are given tacit permission to behave toward them with alternative conventions.

Genna Visages

africans in russia

In The Bush

africans in russia

Is a bum just a bum, regardless of skin color? In Russia no. Homeless blacks are few and far between with problems unique to their group. Getting to the bottom how and why they came to live on the street requires a special dictionary of tact translating fractured mixed-language euphemisms, delicate dreams and confused emotions into an honest account. Keywords repeat with sign and signifier occasionally outwitting each other.  Refugee, bureaucracy, documents, escape, freedom, rights, negro, black, war, UN, slave, job, passport, racism, registration, vodka, rent, bathe, human ………..

Genna Meets Tolya

africans in russia

This image, that I like for Genna’s profile, comes from the scene where Genna first meets Tolya. Here the fighters feel each other out in the first round of their bout. As Tolya is significantly older we have a battle of young vs old, or experience vs naivety as well as black vs white, or us vs them. That a child is used as the point of entry into the discussion on racism should not be overlooked. Cuteness is an easy tool for generating sympathy. Like the Russian girls in the film who find Genna adorable, the viewer is encouraged to feel the same. Does it work?

Taking at face value that the film aims to raise awareness of racism in contemporary Russia. A contradiction arises in that Genna’s cuteness precludes him from being a serious subject. While the subject is not trivial, the main character is, and there is less of a compulsion to take racism seriously.

Gagarin’s Grandson – Van Gogh

africans in russia

What can I say, the choice of placing Genna with an artist as adopted parent immediately condemned my appreciation of the film as cliche. Why does Fedya have to be an artist? He could  be anything, truck driver, banker, anyone. By the law of averages he should be some type of engineer, but no. He is a spiritual adviser, a missionary whose artistic calling is meant to uplift Genna by teaching him to cherish the sublime.

In today’s Russia only an artist with creative personality, on the fringe of the mainstream with an outsider’s outlook on life is capable of proper interaction with a black kid. After all suffering is the way to achievement in art. Increasing the the artist’s burden is an even more surefire way to salvation. Is that what we are meant to understand?

Van Gogh who lopped off his ear to a higher cause is an obvious choice for turning Genna the ignorant miscreant into Genna the enlightened. The complex mysterious personality, the suffering, these are things Genna can relate to as an outcast. Genna is not shown a diamond encrusted skull of Damien Hirst, nor a monograph of Turner Prize winners. A false syllogism is being propagated, you who suffer Genna, are an artist such as he, you just haven’t quite understood it until now.

Africans in Soviet and Russian Films

africans in russia

I am going to begin looking at popular perceptions and ideas about Africa contained in Soviet-era and modern Russian films.  I will post TV screen photographs and my commentary on what I find important, or what it seems the filmmaker thought was important.

This is image is from Gagarin’s Grandson. In addition I plan post images and analysis from Maximka, Circus, Little Vera, Fifteen-Year-Old Captain, Little Red Devils if I can find a copy, and anything else that gets uncovered in the process.

Topol-M Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

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A Russian Topol-M ICBM drives down Moscow’s central avenue Ulitsa Tverskaya in preparation for the May 9 Victory Day parade celebrating the end of WII. This picture is really about three guys enjoying looking at an awesome piece of military hardware. I’m hard pressed to find the Africans in Russia angle beyond the actual fact.

African-Type Dolls

africans in russia

These hand crafted doll sculptures by Inga Butina (site seems to be inoperative) were recently for sale as objects of art at the Moscow Fine Art Fair in the Central House of Artists. From the artist’s statement:

“Hard times penetrate the soul with the sounds of African ethnicity.  Truth stiflingly weeps tears of  timelessness,  covered by the slime of a city indifferent to life, drowned in lamp-light and the wild dancing of black and white thoughts on vitality. And in the mixed song, the sky sings of childhood and the sensitivity hidden in the utmost feminine origins of boys’ creations in your name and image, that look upon the creations of the world.”

Details »

Africans in Russia

africans in russia

Hello world! Welcome to the first ever post on the Asylum in Bardak blog. Check here for photo and story updates from an ongoing documentary project about the lives of Africans in Russia.


black in russia

They that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.

[Job 4:8-9]