Tribambuka on her ‘Right to Rage’ solo show, femininity and ferocity

Interview for Cluster Contemporary

Today, we are excited to be talking to Anastasia Beltyukova, aka Tribambuka. The multidisciplinary artist and award-winning illustrator has been part of the Cluster family since 2019, when she made her debut at the fifth edition of Cluster Illustration Fair. Tribambuka has won over 30 awards, done 13 talks and has been published in multiple publications. Her first solo show was in 2013. After years of friendship and many conversations, Cluster is thrilled to announce her solo exhibition “Right to Rage”, launching at the Cluster Contemporary Fair in November. Her thought-provoking work questions the layers of society, the political influences on human existence and the long-lasting disproportionate issues affecting the lives of women.

- What sparked this project?

Sparked is a good word, as I found out that I don’t have much control over the theme - something sparks it and it burns and takes over your attention completely. It was going to be a different exhibition initially - I have been exploring themes of Home, Identity and Belonging and was going to go deeper in that direction. In a way, my upcoming show could be seen as a continuation of this narrative, I guess, but with an emphasis on gender. 

I went to an art residency on La Gomera island last summer and was really fascinated by its strange nature - weird and beautiful poisonous succulents trying to survive on rugged black volcanic rocks, and the whole idea of sitting on top of a volcano was equally strange. It is something that looks stable and solid and even flourishing, and at the same time, there is this immense pressure inside, and it can explode at any moment with fuming lava, the fire that was inside all along, bubbling in the depths. And actually, after I left the island, the neighbouring La Palma did exactly that! I watched the liquid fire pouring out and destroying everything around and I felt completely mesmerised, like something inside me was responding to that with the deep sound of fire building up.

La Gomera Island

And then Russia, the country that I used to call home for many years, started the unexplainable and horrific invasion of Ukraine, a country that is very dear to my heart, and I guess my volcano finally erupted. I had to find means to process it all, as it shuttered the order of things, trust in humanity and sense of belonging for me. I experienced the most intense rage I didn’t know I had in me.

The most triggering point for me was justifying the war with a specific victim-blaming language that is often used towards women when talking about some abuse they have suffered. It was, of course, followed by actual tortures and rapes, like in any war. It seemed to me as a pinnacle of the patriarchal outlook and the ultimate objectification of a woman - seeing her as a symbol of the country that has to be conquered, defeated and humiliated.

Bucha, 2022
Oil, Oil Pastels, Carbon Pencil on Canvas
80 x 60 x 3.5 cm

Somehow the most outspoken protests against this war, as in the Belorussian protests the year before, were carried out by women, and women were the ones who suffered in this (or any) war the most, although they’re never the heroes and they’re absent from the historical accounts of war. 

While looking for ways to process this and not feel helpless, I turned to viewing the current events with mythological thinking and exploring the dark side of feminine power.

I found a lot of archetypal references in Greek, Indian and other mythologies that supported my work. In Western civilisations, women seek images that would define their identity. In the Christian narrative, the representation of the divine feminine is missing. Virgin Mary, closest to it, only represents the flawless and pure aspects of femininity, not representing a woman’s nature as a whole. The images of femininity in our culture have been determined in large part by the desires and needs of men, as women’s stories in myths and legends were also told by men. Men raised with traditional values tend to want women to be soft, caring, sweet and nice. Yet women are not necessarily what men imagine or want them to be.

Alecto, 2022
Oil, Oil Sticks, Acrylics on Canvas Board
70 x 50 x 0.5 cm

I’d like to have a direct look at my ‘shadow sister’, to have a look at this anger, give in to it and see where it takes me. I want to encourage myself and other women to reclaim the space that we were denied, reclaim our bodies, reclaim our voices, reclaim our stories. To make a pledge to take a small step towards change, whatever change it might be: speak up, stand up to something, say NO, say YES…

- But isn’t anger a destructive force? Isn’t it dangerous for you and the people around you?

Well, it is definitely the most ‘outlaw’ emotion for women. 

Funny enough, it looks like in the patriarchal society it’s the only emotion that is allowed to men and the only emotion that is not allowed to women.

As girls, we’re discouraged from feeling or expressing it as it isn’t ‘feminine’, while aggression and assertiveness are encouraged in boys and rewarded in men. Women learn to channel it into sadness, anxiety and depression, which are all passive states, while anger is an emotion requiring action. We’ve learned to think of it as a destructive and dangerous power, to avoid it, to tone it down, to sublimate, and it builds up, unacknowledged and unaddressed. But in fact, healthy anger is just a sign of a violation of boundaries, a reaction to injustice, a threat, to things that went wrong in the world. To love being obscured.

Furies, 2022
Oil, Oil Sticks, Acrylics, Posca Pens on Canvas
150 x 100 x 3.5 cm

In Buddhism, anger, when purified of Ego, is in its essence a mirror-like wisdom, the ability to see things clearly and reflect them. When guided by compassion and wisdom, it is another (sharp) tool to rebalance things, cut off the unnecessary and clear space for new things to grow. So I prefer to see it this way.

When I started reading about the subject and talking to people, I realised that all women I know are angry, and we’re still angry about the same things second wave feminists were angry about. And not only them, of course - I’m looking into stories of ancient goddesses and other women outraged at the state of the world - Medusa, Eurynome, Circe, Furies - and letting myself look at the fire and inviting the viewer to look at it with me. I believe that anger can be a tool for social change.
(If you’re wondering why women are angry, I’ve asked around.)

- What are your personal reasons for going so deep into women’s role in society?

Strangely, I was never keen on art being a tool of social justice. I always thought that it should be more like a vehicle to explore the eternal, the inner, the essence of things. 

But then at some point, you find that everything in your life becomes political - being a woman is political, being a Russian is political, being a white person or even just being a human is political. Yin and Yang are political - who assigns the qualities to genders and why? Why is ‘male’ bright and active and ‘female’ - dark and passive? I can see so much conditioning around me - which I wasn’t aware of before. 

Looking back at my life makes me really angry because, being socialised as a girl in a patriarchal society, you inherit a lot of inner misogyny and mistrust of yourself. While growing up in Russia in the 90s, I was told numerous times by my art tutors that women can’t be great artists (and there’s no point in being an artist if you’re not great) and that was while the majority of art students were girls. I think I had internalised that belief and chose what seemed like the less ambitious path of a graphic designer. 

Moving to London 12 years ago helped me to shift those limiting beliefs and I became an illustrator, which at the time seemed the closest I could get to art. And after 3 years of therapy, I think I managed to work through that harmful conditioning. Now I’m able to take this step towards the place I always felt I belonged to.

SHE / HER / HERS series, 2022

- I want to talk a bit about your play with illustration and painting, dissect your multi-layered talents and understand how you feel.

As I mentioned above, becoming an illustrator was my way to get as close to art as possible, as close as my inner critic allowed me to. Also, I got a bit tired of graphic design, and illustration was an exciting way to make a living. 

I studied at the St. Petersburg State Academy of Art and Design, and apart from learning graphic design, I got equipped with lots of other skills that I’m finding very useful now: from knowledge of anatomy to painting, sketching, printmaking, drawing, collage and being able to construct anything you need from nothing. 

So my illustration and art practice combine it all: I can print monotypes one day, collage them with letterpress and hand-painted textures the next day, scan it all and create a digital illustration out of it on the third. I also got into experimental animation, combining everything I could get my hands on - collage, dripping watercolours, stop motion, frame by frame illustrations.

My painting practice is definitely built on all that. I took the symbolic and narrative approach from illustration, my love for textures from printmaking, and sharp composition from graphic design, and I have a feeling it might still transform in the future.

- What do you want to achieve with your solo exhibition “Right to Rage”?

I’d like to start a conversation on one of the most taboo topics, female rage. Speaking about it to other women has been a refreshing and liberating experience, and I believe it can become another small shift towards a more just society. Also, I would like men to listen and embrace our rage and help social change to happen. I’d like to learn how to use this rage myself.

I’d like to meet and connect with like-minded people and build a network for future projects. I already have an idea for the next show!

Tribambuka's Studio

- We were lucky to do a studio visit and see the vibrant, large-scale, fuelled with passion paintings. Tell us about the technical approach.

I always have a few sketchbooks running at the same time, where I sketch and write down ideas. I’m trying never to leave home without one. I have seen artists keeping very serious sketchbooks dedicated to specific projects, but mine are more like random playgrounds where I just fool around. And I think it’s the most important part of any project - just letting things brew in my sketchbooks. I allow anything to happen there, and they serve as a perfect ‘fridge’ for ideas - a tiny sketch can be a seed of a painting or a whole project later in the future. 

I also started reading lots of books on the chosen topic (or more like on the topic that chose me) - here’s my reading list for this project. And, of course, I collect songs to get me in the mood - here’s the Right to Rage mixtape! I talk about it to people, too, I completely submerge myself into the theme. And let it grow, and nourish it.

When the time comes for the seed to burst, I pick some scribbles and make a few more defined sketches on A4 paper. After that, I follow it vaguely on the primed canvas with charcoal or carbon pencil. Then I do a background layer with liquid acrylics and let the images emerge, painting with oils and oil sticks. Sometimes I finish the work with oil pastels, soft pastels and Posca pens.

But finishing the works is not the actual ‘birth’ - the show will be! So it’s a very exciting moment, revealing the works to the audience, getting feedback and creating ripples. I’m very grateful to you and the Cluster family for facilitating this ‘delivery’ and making it all happen!

For thousands of years women - divine and mortal - have been suppressed and shaped by patriarchal expectations. Tribambuka says ‘no more’ to bottling emotions and lets the volcano of feminine rage explode in roaring colour on canvas in her upcoming solo show “Right to Rage”. Just like the earth’s layers shift to let the magma out on the surface, this talented Cluster artist hopes to cause ripples in the fabric of society. She wants to start a conversation that’s loud and impossible to ignore - a true force to be reckoned with.

Come witness the birth of Tribambuka’s “Right to Rage” solo show at the Cluster Contemporary Fair in November and shop her works in our online store. If you wish to join a community of like-minded people passionate about art and creativity, follow us on Instagram. We’re expecting you!

Dr Charles Wright
Tribambuka is passionately and effectively exploring with art and other means the serious historical and still current issues that should indeed make women angry and lead to more structured intervention to correct them. Well done Anastasia and congratulations also for the related and beautiful illustrations of women.

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All artworks ©Tribambuka 2024