Imagine if you had to learn about Russia exclusively through viral internet culture. What kind of place would it be? Perhaps a kingdom of spectacular concrete ruins and endless tower block estates, inhabited solely by squatting slavs in black Adidas tracksuits? A ride in a burning car with a bear hanging out the window, or other dash cam gems? A melancholic estate where you endlessly fry eggs, listen to the radio, and take out the trash?
The collective online mind is merciless in its storytelling, and it’s been argued before that regional-specific memes may not be as benign as they seem. At the same time, the internet allows for stereotypes to become a cathartic language of self-discovery through humour. Enter: Instagram face filters. For Eastern European creators, this new artistic frontier is not just about changing the colour of your eyes or adding cute freckles — it’s about taking visual cues of the post-Soviet day-to-day to create a wearable digital statement. It’s odd, it’s surreal, it’s both strange and familiar, it’s educational — and it’s a good laugh.
This fine piece of baroque post-Soviet romanticism taps into so many cultural references: from 90s two-stripe Adidas knock-offs to 24-hour flower shops which softly glow through the night in any Russian city, to the notoriously excess of the region’s graphic design. The end result? A squatting slav in a black Adidas tracksuit. Holding a lush bouquet of flowers. Surrounded by love hearts. Flying through the skies on a carpet. To a punchy chanson tune. What more could you ask for?
“Witness from Fryazino” was a meme which circulated on the Russian internet in the beginning of the 2000s. It was based on a real photograph from a wedding which took place in a small town in the Moscow region, where one of the witnesses appeared wearing black leather jacket and crisp white Adidas track pants. After becoming an internet sensation, “the witness” was added to numerous historical scenes and works of art, including the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Yalta conference and even the last supper. Now, thanks to augmented reality, he can keep you company in your room.
This one is so close to home (literally) for plenty of post-Soviet kids. We all remember the red flower-patterned rugs which hung on the wall, both as decoration, and as DIY noise-cancelling technology. Lay your head in this cosy room which consists almost entirely of this rug, a dead TV, tulle curtains, and furniture which might have belonged to your grandma. This is our Hotel California.
It might be a rare sight in the wild these days, but a DIY-customised boxy Lada car used to be the gem of every housing estate back in the days. It’s an artefact both of macho car culture and of the incredible resourcefulness of local lads. So many great writers and thinkers have been preoccupied with finding the true definition of the Russia soul, but look no further — a Lada covered in Adidas stickers is probably the closest we can ever come to it. Take a ride.
A filter that does what is says on the tin: “Queer is here”. Created by musician and queer activist Slava Rusova, this filter looks like something one would doodle over an old magazine. It clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s also LGBTQI+ activism. We stan.
Kiosk ladies are the true unsung heroes of the early stage of Russian capitalism. Framed by endless rows of chocolates, chewing gum, and cigarette packs, they are familiar to anyone ever caught hungry, thirsty, bored, or lost by a metro station. They were also akin to the Holy Grail for any 90s kid obsessed with imported sugary treats. Most of the kiosks in big cities are now gone. But they are not forgotten.
Khinkali is a variety of a Georgian dumpling, an oversized twisted knob of dough stuffed with meat and spices. This filter was created by a Moscow-based restaurant, perhaps in loving memory of everyone who’s ever been sent into a food coma by these bad boys.
Logomania reigns supreme in today’s fashion, but you know who has been there since the early 90s? Yes, the Russians. From cheap knockoffs sold on the market to authentic branded handbags in the manicured hands of the super rich, Louis Vuitton is a cultural staple. Ironic, unauthorised, and free, branded face filters are being made all the world today — and we had to include one from Russia.
A$AP Rocky has a long-lasting relationship with Russian cultural references: from his famous “babushka” headscarf to a Russian classic criminal tune in the trailer for the Babushka Boi single. We love cultural exchange in hip-hop, and so do the hundreds of Russian people in Rocky’s YouTube comments claiming him as “their brother”. Couldn’t agree more.
This one evokes long summers spent at the dacha with its inevitable rituals of pulling weeds and making barbeques. The small elements of material culture are spot on: the shabby grill, the skewers, the tin pot with ornamental strawberries and flowers, and the fact that meat turns into coals if you don’t turn the skewers over. The digital graphics are primitive, but as real and nostalgic as memories.