Explore the bleak and beautiful at St Petersburg’s legendary Udelka flea market

Explore the bleak and beautiful at St Petersburg’s legendary Udelka flea market
Image: Olga Shapovalova

4 April 2019

The “Venice of the North” might be a city of grand old palaces, but St Petersburg is also home to one of Russia’s biggest flea markets. Udelka, or “Udelochka” as it’s affectionately known, is full of old treasures and artefacts that would make any Tsarist palace jealous.

Precious trinkets from Leningrad living rooms, medical utensils, rag dolls, bizarre costumes, and ridiculous t-shirts from the 90s all make for a quirky grandeur. And if the above doesn’t sound like essential shopping, Udelka’s fan Instagram account is turning the market’s bleak treasures into proper art installations.

Juxtaposition is at the heart of @udelochka’s weirdly beautiful installations: from a wet dress on icy ground — a market-version of John Everett Millais’s Ofelia — and African totem idols covered in crisp white snow, to erotic statuettes paired with Orthodox icons and plastic rubbish.

Alongside the installations there is a solid share of portraiture — the market’s charismatic sellers are caught unwittingly mimicking the patchwork reality of Udelka. A woman is snapped selling a tiger print cloth, herself wearing a leopard print dress in the shadow of an orange wagasa umbrella. A dandy resembling the Russian twin of Donald Trump sells old cameras on the bumper of a black Chevrolet.

Flicking through the gallery, you’ll also spot post-Soviet Russian trends such as the towel design or erotica that were ubiquitous in the pop culture of the 90s. However, it’s the rich mix of fake Christian art, religious paraphernalia, and Soviet military minutia, with the author’s witty commentary, that makes @udelochka a snapshot of Russia’s urban edgelands.

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