Every year on May 1, thousands of Russians stage a public celebration of absurdity in a handful of cities across Siberia. This year, the slogans and costumes were as delightfully ridiculous as ever.
This unusual tradition, the brainchild of a small group of radical artists, originated in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in 2004. One member of the group, Ivan Dyrkin, coined the term “Monstration” by dropping the “de” from demonstration, a prefix he associated with negative connotations. Invitations to the first Monstration were signed by the Contemporary Art Terrorism group, borrowing the title assumed by another of the artists, Max Neroda, for his acts of “art terrorism,” which involved him showing up at exhibitions and hanging his own paintings on the wall without invitation.
One of the original organizers, Artyom Loskutov, who has since become known as the leader of Novosibirsk's annual Monstration, elaborated on the event's meaning in an interview with Calvert Journal:
Monstration was an experiment in rethinking the city environment and particularly the May Day demonstrations, which had long lost their original meaning. I’d gone to several May Day demonstrations before and they seemed like a weird ritual. You’re supposed to take part but hardly anybody knows why. It seems like complete nonsense. That’s what we wanted to emphasize. Monstration is both a critique and a concept. We wanted to bring the May Day demonstration back to life but we also wanted to create a cultural event. But as there weren’t that many of us, we didn’t feel as if we could accomplish something on our own so we decided to work with the demonstration, integrating ourselves into it and transforming it from the inside.
The first Monstration in Novosibirsk drew a crowd of less than a hundred people, but the concept has since gained popularity while spreading to dozens of other cities. This year, several thousand Russians took part in Novosibirsk's march of absurdity.
“Monstration 2015: The limits of democracy, or SWAT vs. children”
Novosibirsk Mayor Anatoly Lokot, a member of the Communist Party, does not appear to appreciate his city's strange tradition, however. In the lead up to the May 1 holiday, Lokot wrote on VKontakte to promote the official Workers’ Day march. Lokot's post heralded the importance of labor in Soviet-like style, even quoting Karl Marx for good measure.
Then, on May 1, the “Monstrators” arriving to crash the city's official parade were reportedly met by police who informed them they were not authorized to participate. The angry demonstrators marched in the opposite direction, and police later arrested organizer Artyom Loskutov.
Меня задерживает центр э
— артём лоскутов (@kissmyba) May 1, 2015
I'm being detained by Center E [the anti-extremism police]
Loskutov was subsequently sentenced to 10 days in jail and hit with a small fine. Amnesty International has declared the Russian artist to be a “prisoner of conscience” and demanded his immediate release.
Loskutov has credited his arrest at a Monstration in 2009 with helping to make the concept famous beyond Novosibirsk, and this year's run-in with police has already drawn a lot of attention. It appears, however, that future Monstrations will be forced to navigate Russia's increasingly restrictive environment for public assembly, despite the event having little to do with politics or even reality.