Yulia Spiridonova

MFA ’24 Photography

When Russia announced the beginning of its “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine—a euphemism the government uses for war—any opposition to the aggression became a punishable offense. Most of my friends and I felt we had no choice but to leave the country as a sign of protest. Our communities were uprooted and scattered across different continents, countries, cities, and time zones. Many of us have lost our jobs, and our lives revolve around problems with visas, passports, work permits, and financial instability. We live in a perpetual state of insecurity, but are unwilling to return home out of fear of being drafted into the army, or jailed for our artwork or comments on social media. In the extensive history of repression, dating back to the philosophers’ ships which transported expelled intellectuals in the early days of the USSR, Russian immigrants living in exile have faced the ongoing challenge of performing a constant act to camouflage their identity and remain invisible.

Feeling alienated under these precarious living conditions, I am rebuilding my community by photographing members of the current Russian diaspora in Boston. I find them through Telegram chats and occasional events. Since a lot of the people I photograph have immigration issues in the US, I ask them, prior to photographing, how much of their identity they are willing to reveal. I photograph them in neutral territory—streets, parks, parking lots, or studios—in places that are anonymous and empty. The events of the last years thrust us into a nomadic lifestyle: without a clear sense of how long we can stay, most of us do not have much with us. We try to blend in by mimicking natives, yet everyone can identify us when we speak. My work is a visual study of the Russian community—identifiable, present, yet opaque.

Yulia Spiridonova is a contemporary artist working primarily with photography, collage, and installation. Born in Moscow, Russia, in 1986, she currently resides and works in Boston, Massachusetts. Her art has been exhibited in Russia, the United States, and various countries across Europe. Yulia holds an undergraduate degree from Moscow State University (2008) and a post-baccalaureate certificate from Massachusetts College of Art and Design (2014). She is currently pursuing her MFA at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (expected graduation in May 2024).