“Mum, find out where Kadyrov gets his clothes from.”
I often wake up to a strange query or eccentric demand texted by my son. What makes them even stranger is the total lack of context.
How would I know what he might be thinking while living in a totally different country?
Hmm, I say to myself, let me check who Kadyrov is in the first place.
Never voluntarily admitting to the absence of knowledge, I text back ‘Give me a minute’. Having learned from my mother’s mistakes, I’ve disciplined myself to take interest in my son’s interests when invited; thus, I’ve familiarised myself with Futurama, Death Note and Grand Theft Auto.
Today, on a delightfully sunny Sunday morning, I start the rather dark journey through Kadyrov’s Wikipedia entry, articles, videos and pictures. A sombre figure takes shape: a hereditary hybrid between an Asiatic kaïd and a Soviet nomenclatura. With typical Islamist beard (blond!) and typical sovietchik military orders of distinction on his ‘sportswear’, Kadyrov could have been a laughable figure - if it weren’t for his war-crimes, state privatisation, mafia-style racket of the whole population, suppression of women, persecution of gays, assassinations of journalists and last, but not least, hereditary renegade status.
Having also learned from my mother’s mistakes not to be judgmental, after one hour of research I text my son back ‘But he dresses like a mountain peasant on the border of civilisation - invented signs patched on sports gear, so who cares who makes them!?!’
Then again, after two hours, ‘His wife makes his gear. If not her personally, then her fashion brand’. This time I receive a response ‘Not sure. Double check it’.
As a mother, I never admit to a task being out of my reach. I don’t say things like ‘Are you nuts? How will I find a primary source that confirms that Kadyrov’s wife hand sews his clothes?’ or ‘Do you expect me to call a fashion brand in Grozny and ask them to confirm they tailor the Head of State’s garments?’.
Instead, I text ‘Ok, I’ll double check right now, I know just who to ask’. I don’t have a clue, of course, so I just go on with my day. Reminded by my calendar about Parallax Art Fair, I go out into the chilly afternoon. Chelsea Town Hall is a wonderful building, the art fair the usual mess of paintings, photographs, drawings, jewellery, painted silk and stained glass.
I walk around thinking ‘Hmm, not this, not this, not this’. It’s too stuffed with low key art. Artists look desperate, it's mainly them looking at each other's’ art. ‘Are you an artist?’, somebody asks me. ‘No’. I’m afraid to disappoint, but he looks relieved and gives me his business card.
They all look desperate. It seems unfair, this art fair.
I stroll around. Then I see it - Svetlana Kuznetsova’s stand. Was it the gold? Was it the skulls? The red stars? The familiar old symbols? The dead flies? Or simply the different quality of the artwork?
There’s a wonderful wooden coffin with a prayer written under the glass sarcophagus. This little model has captured every single bit of the monumentalism of the system that the artist seeks to bury. There’s a small animal skull with a jewelled crown; ‘Putin’ the author explains. The skull has golden coins of Tsar Nicolas for eyes. I ask if I can take a picture. ‘Yes’. Svetlana stands next to me. Kadyrov cuddling a cat pops onto the screen the moment I activate my phone. Oh, the embarrassment!
Yet nothing, it seems, can embarrass a Soviet-born woman and artist. ‘This is Kadyrov’, she says, pointing at another small skull topped with a tiny Chechen hat.
She tells me that Kadyrov’s mother is the head of his racketeering organisation, the one that takes 10-30% of the income of every Chechen citizen; and that this racket also concerns the Chechen expats in Russia. ‘While this is us’, Svetla says, pointing at numerous dead one-day flies. There are also bigger flies, bumble bees, bees and beetles. There is also a skull representing the Orthodox Church and another one. They all have golden rings, earrings and cufflinks, inherited family jewels, stuffed in the orifices of what were once their mouths, eyes and ears.
There are golden medals and Red Order stars, all awarded to Svetlana’s grandfather, a veteran of the Great War. Apart of this small model of everything that has to go, but still hasn’t, Svetlana has another object, sadder and funnier at the same time.
This represents all the deficits that she and her people had experienced during the ‘bright future’ as the Eastern Block used to call the communist time. In golden letters, are the words; Sausages, Panty Liners, Meat and plenty of others. This object is called ‘We Are Closed For Lunch’.
I take a lot of pleasure talking to Svetlana, who explains every object in detail. She is open, forthcoming, richly informative and funny.
She talks about her sources of inspiration; shares her dream to invite her favourite contemporary Russian artist, Vasily Slonov, and wonders if, exhibited in London, he will provoke the interest he deserves. I say, ‘Certainly, yes’.
Generous and cordial, Svetlana promises to make a picture of the contemporary Russian cuisine for London Art and Food. We discuss the concept. At some point, I remember my morning mission and ask her ‘Do you know who makes Kadyrov’s clothes?’ ‘Ha! The fashion brand of his wife’, Svetlana says.
I leave Parallax Art Fair happy. One discovery is enough.
‘You made my day’, I tell her on my way out. She sends me an air kiss.
On the Tube, I see two young girls cuddling and smiling at each other in the opposite window.
On the bus, I see a man and a woman kissing. They turn and smile at me.
I think of Kadyrov; ‘I wish you to discover homosexual love, as every love is a bliss. It might help you see a glimpse of this heavenly garden of which you will otherwise be banned’.
Mission accomplished. Confirmed, I text my son, ‘Kadyrov is dressed by F*rdaws, which in Arabic means a garden, the heaven reserved for the pure’.
22 October 2017
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