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.
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.
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. From
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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. The
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.
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.
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.
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: (http://www.depotium.com
). I was fortunate enough to learn the tricks of the trade from
their masterly skills while I helped during the project.
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
is said in the movie Fight Club we have no great depression
and no great war, we mostly possess everything we need; hence,
we live in a golden century.