I first encountered Tatiana’s art about four years ago (she was working under the name ‘Alice White’ at the time). Excited by her flamboyant style and stories of her intriguing personality, I promised myself I would meet her. It was not until the end of this year that we embarked on a collaboration. The wait was worth it. Tatiana proved to be a great storyteller, through both her conversation and her art. I was treated to a feast of extraordinary tales filled with adventure, mystery and wild courage. Her mesmerizing life story left two bathtubs overflowed and countless coffee pots boiled over. This is a collage of two weeks of continual conversation – Tatiana’s mini-memoir. Insights into her art and the forces, personalities and relations that shaped it.
“I was the fourth child in my family. My mother was 43 when she remarried and I was born shortly afterward. My three half-siblings were unimpressed by my arrival and expressed little warmth toward me. Instead, I befriended books. I read the Wizard of Oz countless times. Among the books in our home was a massive volume of art reproductions from Louvre. I turned the pages of that book endlessly and I can still remember all the paintings from it.”
“My other childhood passion, which verged on fanaticism, was God. I even arranged a small altar in my room, where my young soul regularly united with the Absolute. My preoccupation with religion went out the window at the age of 10 – I rejected the church and threw away all my icons. The catalyst was my father’s decision to take his own life.”
“After high school I found a job waitressing in a nightclub. Nightlife, parties and the archetypical nocturnal persona overwhelmed me. I became infatuated with the romantic image of a creative person, an artist and their role in modern life. At that time I also discovered painting. I painted inexplicable images from my subconscious. I had no solid grasp of technique or a coherent artistic vision then. It was just a glimpse of a dream.”
“In pursuit of it I went to China, which borders with my native Kyrgyzstan. I lived in exuberant, chaotic Shanghai, learning Chinese at Shanghai Normal University. I drew constantly and with greater passion than ever – yet the thought of becoming an ‘artist’ was daunting. I also met a guy, fell in love and on the spur of the moment departed for Tibet with him.”
“Our plan was simple. We wanted to reach India, first crossing on foot into Tibet (since we didn’t have the required papers for entry) and then Nepal. We made it to the city of Chengdu, close to the Tibetan border, to find a way to the holy country. Our naivety played in our favor – without much subterfuge we openly went in search of someone who would smuggle us across Tibet to the Nepal border.”
“We couldn’t think of anything more intelligent than asking strangers where we could buy a photo of Dalai Lama! Yet by this clumsy method we found the black market and some man offered us passage all the way to Lhasa. He told us his elderly parents were going there on a pilgrimage and could conceal us in their jeep. From Lhasa we could cross into Nepal on foot. We had to prune our backpacks radically, and it meant letting go of all my early drawings. I packed them into a parcel which I sent post restante to Delhi. I didn’t know it then but it would be the last time I saw them.”
“We travelled in the rear of a jeep in our sleeping bags. For ten days we raced through the heart of Tibet, through places without a single white man; past huge monasteries and endless lakes. The air was so virgin it vibrated with the faint tintinnabulation of purity. We survived several treacherous high passes that were under the heavy snow. I actually saw several cars in front of us slide over the edge. We were lucky, but our nerves were frayed (as were those of our companions).”
“One day from Lhasa our guides asked for the whole sum agreed for the journey. We had given them half, and promised the rest upon arrival at the destination. The old man kept arguing with us and would stop pointedly at each police checkpoint to scare us. Unfortunately, he was too obvious and we were discovered by the police. We frantically talked our way out of the situation, saying we had lost our documents and had no idea where we were. The police sent us to Bejin by train and from there we went to Russia.”
“In St. Petersburg I enrolled in the art school, since my passion to draw burned unabated. I had an amazing teacher, who had graduated from St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. She passed to me an enormous amount of knowledge. It was then that I drew my first picture on the subject of time – a series on which I am still working. Dreams of India didn’t leave me though, and soon we headed off again.”
“For the next two years we toured the furthest corners of India and went to Cambodia and Thailand. Life became a long journey with many adventures. But endless traveling did not allow me to continue drawing, and the fact depressed me. I enrolled at an art college in Delhi, but the quality of education was poor. I began contemplating to where I could be transferred. One of my college teachers mentioned an institute in Varanasi. She said it was the best of its kind in India. The very name, ‘Varanasi’, seized my imagination, and I realized I had to go there and see it with my own eyes.”
“I arrived during a significant festival, ‘Shivaratri’, or ‘night of Shiva’ (Varanasi is Shiva’s city according to mythology). On that day the whole town drinks a sacred concoction called ‘lassi bhanga’ – marijuana pulp mashed with sweet yogurt. Naturally the tradition didn’t escape me and it proved to be an extremely powerful experience.”
“The whole history of this mystic city, filled with mud, cows and endless streams of cars, rickshaws and people, overwhelmed my being. The mythology of Varanasi rivals that of Babylon. Varanasi’s aesthetic richness, where temples and ashrams outnumber people, is astounding. Varanasi is full of creative people – musicians, artists, dancers and sadhu. It is unique and unlike anything else. I completed my third semester in Varanasi, and not for a moment did I regret my decision. Varanasi is a brutal teacher. You see pain, suffering and death. By ancient tradition unique to the city, dead bodies are burnt day and night on the banks of the Ganges. Mortality seeps through every aspect of everyday life here. But I discovered that only in such close proximity to death can one learn to live without fear. So many things become unimportant in the face of death.”
Biziukova Tatiana is a Russian artist living and working in Varanasi, India. Her haunting series of acrylic paintings, ‘Cogswheel’, explore the philosophical boundaries of temporality – the figurative imagery and enigmatic environments provoking the viewer to reflect on the soul’s immortality and bodily duration. Her latest work, a collage series titled ‘Nine Nights of the Devine Mother’, contemplates femininity and female sexuality. Comprised of original photography, drawings and Hindu symbolism, they communicate Tatiana’s continual inner dialogue with the dichotomies of gender.
TO SEE MORE OF TATIANAS’ ART VISIT www.saatchiart.com/tatianabiziukova.