Maria Ushakova. “I want to free people…”
Interview by John Harrison
What is your background — where are you from, what is your interest in Russia?
I am Russian, but I have lived half of my life abroad, in various countries across Europe. I spent quite a lot of time in the UK, more precisely 8 years. I have always been fascinated by the difficult relationship between our two countries. There is always a huge communication gap between Russians and Anglo-Saxons. I have chosen to spend the rest of my life serving the country of my origin (Russia), and I would like to do more to help bridge the cultural misunderstandings between Russia and other countries. In order to do this, we – Russians need to be more self-critical and more self-reflective; learn how to analyze ourselves, compare ourselves more with others, take a step back and see ‘the bigger picture’.
What is the true mission of a Russian person living in one of the biggest countries in the world? Certainly, it’s a mission of being a wise leader on all fronts: ecological preservation, innovation, intercultural dialogue and world peace! I love Russia for its unpredictable nature. Life is boring when everything is predictable, we need to have ad-hoc elements in our lives, even if they are illogical and make no sense now, I am sure it’s a quantum leap that will be read somehow in the future! What is my interest in Russia? The Russian people and the Russian mentality, and maybe even the Russian soul.. but the older I get, the more reluctant I become in learning how to depict that Russian soul. It’s safer just to remain in the unknown.
Why and when did you start to promote community groups/activities?
I started to promote various community groups about 8 years ago in 2010. Mostly, because I love mixing impossible human ingredients together and seeing what happens. There are various preconceptions created by different institutions of human behavioural design that define how certain people behave in a given set of conditions. Like, if you put an American, a Russian and a German in one room, they are meant to start talking about politics in a matter of ten minutes after meeting each other and hating each other consciously or unconsciously for what has been done by their ancestors during the war… these myths exist! I want to dismantle them. I want to free people from misconceptions and their traumatic images of the past that comes with a constructed image of each nationality.
And, I promote cultural groups where people meet and don’t talk about politics and religion, just enjoy each other’s company. One other aspect of what I do, is my ‘social inclusion” mission. Having lived in the UK, I understand how difficult it is to form friendships in a foreign country, if there are no meetings and no groups – people would struggle forming friendships. So, it’s a way for me to enable foreign nationals to better adapt socially and culturally in Russia.
What kind of groups do you promote and why?
At the moment, I work for an Italian Bank (Banca Intesa), so I am learning Italian and I promote Italian cultural group in Moscow. I organize theatrical gatherings in Italian, exhibitions, concerts outings, wine degustation and trips to Italy. I also promote the Moscow Travel Club – because I really love traveling in my own country. It’s not easy, it’s exhausting but very rewarding. I do a huge amount of one-off events like THEATRE plays, art exhibitions and concerts with/for my friends, who, like me, are ‘cultural exchange promotors on a mission’, but I am now employed by a wonderful bank and am very grateful for this opportunity, so I’ll be promoting it for the foreseeable future. Regarding my PR activities for the bank, we can arrange a separate interview. 🙂
What do you think of the present cultural atmosphere that we are all operating in?
Cultural atmosphere? I would say that we resemble blindfolded puppies who run around and don’t know what ELSE (besides facebook timeline with all the important posts) to do in order to leave a record of our existence behind us after our death.
We try so hard to be important, to be remembered, we live in a hysteric-maniacal era of individualism or ‘reverse-Tetris game’ effect. It is time to permanently throw stones without ever collecting them back. We are too generous with our emotions, we give out too much at all times in the social media. We are perpetually sharing our comments and opinions to the point where they become completely meaningless. So, the culture of conversation and deep analysis of words and meanings is dying. We humbly try to refill our sense of loss, but we fail, as we don’t really know where to take a replacement from – virtual reality? yes, but, it’s not good enough and just causes even more emotional pain.
Or, to put in more existential terms: “snatch the moment from the existential time, swallow it and sh*t it out in a shape of an artistic masterpiece!” But, the key point is that ‘who decides that your shit is the masterpiece?’ yes, the micro gang that you feed with your permanent likes on facebook, you stop feeding them with likes, they will stop feeding your ego and call your shit a masterpiece:).
Just look around, Gucci collection: a handbag in a shape of a ‘human head’…made to match the bag carrier’s head:). What can I say, I guess we live in this era. The era of Grotesque. Now, we can learn how it’s governed, there must be laws! That is what we can search for and define.