The Saatchi Gallery pays tribute to the new art from Russia: Sergei Vasiliev

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Sergei Vasiliev‘s photographs of Russian Criminal Tattoos are part of a three part encyclopaedia/archive on the subject. Vasiliev photographed between 1989 and 1993 in prisons and reform settlements across Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Perm and St. Petersburg.

Sergei Vasiliev, 1982

Sergei Vasiliev, 1982

Publicado el 12/12/2012

The Saatchi Gallery pays tribute to the new art from Russia: Sergei Vasiliev, Gallery 1 – Sergei Vasiliev worked as staff photographer for a newspaper in Chelyabinsk for thirty years, during which time he was also a prison warden. From 1948, a fellow worker, Danzig Baldaev, had begun cataloguing the extensive range of designs made by prisoners onto their skin. These homemade tattoos, scraped and inked into the skin with melted book heels, urine or blood, contained a range of coded messages against the Soviet Union regime ad about the prosoners’ crimes.


Although this kind of tattooing was illegal, the KGB realised what a resource Baldaev’s project could be for their criminal files and eventually brought in Vasiliev to supply hard evidence of the designs’ authenticity. Thanks to their combined efforts , the secret police, and now us, know more about the iconography of this underground artistic phenomenon. Far from being isolated illustration from a catalogue in a tattoo parlour, Vasiliev’s Photographs, taken between 1989 and 1993, are a humanising record that places the faces and bodies of the owners (at one point one in five of the Soviet population) right at the centre of the project.

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