Last updated on March 21, 2022
I talked about Russian tchotchkes a few weeks ago. And then recently, I spotted this make-up collection from Anna Sui, and though it’s called “Dolly Girl” and references wind mills, it has an unmistakable waft of the Slavo-folksy to me. $27 worth, no less.
I’m not a fan of the Russian “look”—tchotchkes, nostalgia, kitsch, call it what you will—Soviet kitsch or Russian folkiness—thanks, but no thanks.
I’ll admit to a soft spot for Tsarist Russia. I grew up around fine, handmade china from what was once the Imperial porcelain factory, the version of things Russian that appeared in our home in the early 90s, after Russia replaced the USSR on the map.
Before that, we were a lone island among immigrant households—almost no markers of the country we’d left to be found on our walls or shelves. Our home was notably silent on Russian/Soviet decor. There were no Russian newspapers, no Russian TV, and very few Russian books. (And I’ve talked about the whole Russian food thing too before.) No matroyshkas or Lomo cameras (or card-carrying Lomographic Society members), and even that weird, over-sized Afghan-esque blanket/wall hanging that seems standard issue in every Russian home was relegated to the basement early in my childhood. The most memorable thing on our walls was a series of over-sized Australian Aborigine paintings. Aside from some Russian children’s book and records, it was not quite your standard issue Immigrant home.
Hence this conversation, which I also mentioned in my last post:
So my theory about this (of course I have a theory) is that leaving a country called the Soviet Union was a very different experience from leaving a country called Russia. Who wanted reminders around of a place that didn’t want you and you couldn’t return to?
Mostly, conversations like this make me realize how unusual my family was in terms of identifying as Immigrants—we didn’t—and how clueless I was about that gap. People are surprised when I tell them that I grew up speaking English at home, or my complete ambivalence towards Russian “stuff.” In turn, I’m puzzled by their surprise. Why should I carry around some misguided sense of affection or nostalgia towards a place we fled?
But those markers, as surface-y as they may be, also ground you firmly to a place, even if that place is on the other side of the world and can’t be found on a map anymore. The absence of “Russianness” from our home decor, our books, and so forth, leaves me in a strange limbo. When I’m in someone’s house that is obviously Russian, it’s familiar and alien at once. I feel like I should have stronger connection to it, or even something to show in return. When I hear conversations in this country about immigration or multiculturalism, I have to remind myself that “hey, that’s me too.” But when something reminds me that I’m not from here—pop culture references that I had to pick up outside the house, say—I also feel alienated from the people around me by my (sudden) non-Canadianness.
So: It’s complicated. And way more to say than can be summed up by a lack of matroyshkas in my childhood.
Ironically, my parents have become softer in their stance towards their home country (I even gave these plates to my mother for her birthday—very Slavo-folksy, yes?), and the rest of the world around me has been in a thrall of things Soviet for some time now, whether it’s kitschy theme restaurants or Soviet avant-garde style. Side effects of the Soviet collapse and time passing.