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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 5, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
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Manitoba Art
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Lydia Schrufer

Recently, I met a remarkable Russian family. Three artists, the mother, Nina Galitskaia, the father, Vitali Gambarov and daughter Stephania Gambaroff, have weathered displacement, language barriers and culture shock. They very graciously invited me to their home which is floor to ceiling , wall to wall overflowing with examples of their creativity. I asked their daughter Stephania to write about their experiences and impressions as recent immigrants to a new and alien environment. What follows is Stephania’s account of her family’s courage to start over.

Stephania Gambaroff

Writing about the life of an artist can be a daunting task but writing about the lives of three artists requires a book. I am working on a novel about our art and journey from Russia to Canada. The following paragraphs are merely the bare bones outline of a remarkable adventure that is still in progress.

My name is Stephania Gambaroff , my father is Vitali Gambarov and my mother is Nina Galitskaia and we have been living and working in Montreal since 2002. Vitali Gambarov & Nina GalitskaiaFrom Uzbekistan to Russia to Canada, from my grandmothers to their children and their child, we are a family of practising artists. I’m sure that if I weren’t a single child my siblings would also be artists. Art is our passion, obsession and addiction, and what a fantastic addiction it is despite ups, downs and occasional disappointments . We are discovering the unique culture of Quebec and north America and blending it with our Russian culture to make art that is new and exciting.

I’m 23 years old and I have had a very untraditional childhood. I didn’t attend kindergarten but spent my early years in my mother’s studio where I played and watched while she worked on huge sculptures. We lived in many artists’ residences in what was then, the Soviet Union . Before I was ten, we had already spent three years living in Lithuania, a year in Crimea (Ukraine), a couple of years in Turkmenistan and several years in Uzbekistan.

© Vitali Gambarov

My parents Nina and Vitali were established and important artists in Russia. They created a Fairy Tale Park for children in Afghanistan in the city of Ajbake during the war. In Turkmeninstan, they erected a monument to Turkmen soldiers and the victims of the Second World War. In Uzbekistan they created a monument commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the victory over Nazis. My parents were the first artists in Europe to create a monument to victims of Stalin’s oppression. During the years of terror in Leningrad – now St. Petersburg -- (1937-38), 45,000 people of all nationalities were slaughtered and buried in Levashovo cemetery in a common grave. The sculpture, “Molokh of Totalitarianism,” represents the state-machine crushing people on the guillotine. The memorial complex was created in collaboration with architect, Alex Lilyakov, and commissioned by the government of St. Petersburg.

After living in one place for several years and being with the same group of journalists, fashion designers, writers, filmmakers and artists, we felt we needed a change. It may have been that we had become too comfortable: two nice studios, nice house, nice car. It might have seemed that things were going just fine with my parents working away in their studios all day, taking part in numerous art shows, art projects and art festivals. It was a fantastic, saturated, interesting dream of a life, but something deep inside, said Future Shock. We needed a boost, an adrenaline kick. Having applied for immigration to Canada in 1998, we received the permanent resident visa in March 2002. In June 2002 we left St. Petersburg for good.

© Stephania GambaroffDuring our three year wait for the necessary papers, great upheavals were taking place in Russia. Black Tuesday of 1998 had arrived, a result of the global stock market crash.

It was late August and the smell of rotting autumn leaves was in the air. Our bank froze our investments for three months, after which it started giving the money back in the equivalent of the US dollar that grew like weeds in those days. In no time our money was turned to dust. During my parents’ lifetime, the government nous a trompé trois fois. Through the devaluation of the national currency and perestroika, people lost ten years of their lives. alt="&#169 Stephania Gambaroff" We had planned to use our money to build a studio in a penthouse in the old part of St. Petersburg, a studio with space for all of us to work, with a glass ceiling to let in the natural light. It was to be our dream studio. The disappointment of Black Tuesday wasn’t even about the loss of money anymore, it was the feeling that our dreams had been violated. Dreams are sacred, the only things that totally and uniquely belong to us.

We chose to look at that event as the “big change” that we needed to move on and move away. We were attracted to Canada because of its multiculturalism and the belief that Canadians are a nice and generous people. My mother, Nina, came to visit here for three months and selected Montreal as our destination, after which we applied for immigration.

© Nina Galitskaia

The three years of waiting felt very strange because we had made the choice to leave and felt as if we were just marking time. I was studying at a prestigious art college, an institution with a 160 year tradition and famous graduates. I worked part time as a graphic designer in a publishing house, creating logos and drawings. I was also giving private drawing and painting lessons to a nine year old girl called Tanya. My college, however, was strictly academic and didn’t encourage experimentation. I felt it was important to be original and innovative because growing up beside two independent fires, I didn’t want to end up in the shadow of their flames. So I started experimenting outside of school with different “unacceptable” materials and found objects. By the end of my first year in college I had taken part in seven exhibitions. I created a performance piece using installation and body dynamics as an extension of sculpture. The work was selected and shown at the international festival for experimental art and performances. With these kinds of notices, I became known as an emerging artist. However, because I was only sixteen, not many people believed I was seriously committed. Furthermore, the ideology of my school considered my activities overindulgent and in bad taste. Despite all the great things happening to me, Canada still drew me with a mysterious power.

It was raining on the day of our departure. They say the rain on the road brings happiness! Shortly after arriving in sunny Montreal, I applied to the Concordia University visual arts program and have since taken up sculpture. Yes, another Gabarov enters the world of bronze, stone and metal.

I have brought with me new ideas and concepts for cinema, installation and performance art that are surely a blend of my past and present life. I have tried to abandon the rigid teachings of the academy in St. Petersburg but have discovered that even at 20 they are difficult to unlearn. I have been fortunate to study with the pre-eminent abstract painter, Francoise Sullivan, and am experimenting with shapes and materials in my sculptures.

© Stephania GambaroffI am a multidisciplinary artist. Many works are a synthesis of sculpture, performance, writing, video and sound. My most recent installation, entitled Stripped-Ease/Milk Joy, takes the female torso as the starting point. I explore its original primeval context as a symbol -- in many cultures -- of nature and fertility. Ancient civilizations represented the female body as powerful fertility figures. My portraying the female body with multiple breasts made of empty beer bottles and plastic bags of milk in dresser drawers is a new representation of an archaic form. © Stephania GambaroffThe torso is covered with lace which carries connotations of female activities such as knitting and crocheting. It is a strictly female vocabulary. I have created videos, installations and have co-written and directed five short films of which the most recent 30 minute film is in the editing stage.

Life in Canada is more difficult for my parents. Not having studios and the loss of status they enjoyed in Russia is a challenge. The language barrier is sometimes a disadvantage since art is often about communicating with like-minded people. However, both my parents are determined to make a fresh start. During our first year in Montreal, they sculpted a bust-monument to great Russian poet Alexandre Pushkin.

© Nina Galitskaia


They continue to paint and sculpt on a necessarily smaller scale. Our apartment is overflowing not only with art work, but also with things collected by three avid artists. Vitali’s and Nina’s focused art encouraged by local gallery contacts have resulted in the creation of new works. Nina’s new series of large-scale canvases (5.5’ by 6’) is entitled Deep Space. She is attempting to represent space on the two dimensional surface of canvas so that it resonates. Once, while regarding one of Nina’s paintings, a partially deaf person remarked that the vibration of the air in each painting allowed him to hear music. She manipulates still life in order to draw attention to the interaction between objects and their surrounding space, and by employing cinematic framing, Nina engages the viewer in these relationships.

© Vitali GambarovVitali’s work explores the formal relationship between classical sculptural shapes and memories of material. He divorces welding from its brutal and violent context, assigning it a new aesthetic meaning. Steel treated as gold, bronze or silver, changes its behaviour patterns in Vitali’s skilled hands. He incorporates stone, wood and metal to create sculptures that live on the edge of the three dimensional collision of shapes. Both Nina and Vitali have created a series of Murals for Depotica, (examples of the murals and sculptures can be seen on their website: ( ). I was fortunate enough to learn the tricks of the trade from their masterly skills while I helped during the project.

While we are engaged in cross-cultural art activities in a new country, my parents and I are confronted with a question of what it means to belong, and whether or not one’s national identity contributes to the concept of home. Our home was and is our family and our nomadic travels only strengthen our bonds. For now, our life consists of making art, learning French and expanding our horizons.

© Vitali Gambarov


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