Russia’s real face is diverse — and these Gen Z artists want to talk about it

27 July 2020

Russia’s diversity is one of the most fascinating aspects of the country’s culture, but also one of the least known. Globally, Russia is often perceived as a homogeneously white country, but in fact, Russia has a long and complicated history of immigration and cultural exchange, with more than 185 recognised nationalities — even if that history is rarely acknowledged by the federal government, or in the country’s mainstream media.

A new generation of Russian creatives, however, is determined to make a change. Artists, photographers, filmmakers, and designers find inspiration in their heritage, be it indigenous or immigrant, are taking pride in being who they are. These Russia Z stories celebrate the many cultures and voices of today’s Russia.


The history of the Koryo-saram, or ethnic Koreans in post-Soviet states, dates back as far as the 19th century. Their history is ridden with exile, oppression, and survival, and this manifests in the Russian-Korean diaspora’s take on their culture — viewed as something precious to preserve and celebrate, but also something intimate, movable, and invincible. For Russia Z, we talked to five Moscow-based creatives from the Russian-Korean community about their heritage, memory, and history in the present and the future

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Russian-Tajik singer and musician Manizha is one of the leading voices exploring the identity, community, and creativity of people from Central Asia. Manizha gives a new generation the chance to discover not only pride in their heritage, but also pride in being an immigrant. Commissioned by The Calvert Journal, her latest editorial was shot by photographer Miliyollie and aims to celebrate the inclusivity at heart of the singer’s vision.

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Buryatia, a highland Russian region bordering Mongolia, is a land where local Buddhist and Shaman traditions collide. It also provides inspiration for 18-year-old Yumzhana Suy, who uses the textile crafts she learnt from her grandmother to comment on ecology, feminism, political discomfort, and self-exploration.

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In a series of portraits, photographer Miliyollie reminds us that the true face of Russia is bold and diverse. In their own words, these Russians from different ethnic backgrounds describe their lives in St Petersburg — including the challenges they face, and their reasons for hope.

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Twenty-one-year-old artist Polina Osipova is best known for her pearl and silk ribbon headpiece adorned with two surveillance cameras (which was later turned into a Gucci face filter). It’s a witty commentary on the surveillance state, but also an homage to Osipova’s roots. The artist originally hails from Chuvasia: a region to the west of the Volga river. It is home to Chuvash people, a Turkic ethnic group with a rich and unique culture. Embroidery plays a significant role in the Chuvash tradition, and is an artform that Osipova also chose to embrace.

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Set in the snow-capped Urals, this multi-genre anthology reveals the lives and traditions of Russia’s indigenous Mari people through stories of 23 women. The Mari, a Finno-Ugric people that live along the northern bank of the river Volga, are considered to be Europe’s last pagans. Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari, the award-winning ethnofiction film by director Aleksei Fedorchenko, paints a beguiling picture of a culture driven by the ritualistic appreciation of female beauty.

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