December 18, 2023

An Anti-War Art Awakening


An Anti-War Art Awakening
Zless's piece "Greed is Good," in which a Russian doll with dirty hands clutches a Ukrainian sunflower. Zless

"Zless anti-war art deals with the war in Ukraine, human rights and politics in Russia. It fights against indifference."

That's what artist Zless says about their works. Even the name beneath which they hide their identity, "Z-less," is a nudge away from propaganda and toward truth.

Zless's medium combines two Russian staples: Orthodox icons and matryoshka dolls. However, these doll-icons are decorated with motifs and symbols to bring the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its aftermath, into focus.

Dolls with dirty hands clutch sunflowers, messaging the "stealing" of Ukraine. A blue figure is marked "red doll," an obvious untruth. One doll is riddled with bullet holes; another sports zelenka, the blue-green antiseptic dye that antiwar protester Elena Milashina was doused with.

By placing the innocence of a traditional doll and the nobility of ancient Christianity alongside modern horrors, Zless underscores the injustice of the invasion of Ukraine.

And yet, while the art is a call for peace, it's not anti-Russian, threading a fine line with skill.

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