Thin line between art and respect

Art or eyesore?: Using a projector, Ovseikin stencilled ‘Body Here – Heart There’ in Russian on the wall of a house in Bali. — Photo taken from Ovseikin’s Instagram page

IN mid-January, under the cover of darkness, Russian street artist Sergei Ovseikin slipped into a rice paddy in Canggu, Bali, to paint one of his most controversial installations yet.

Using a projector, he stencilled “Body Here – Heart There” in Russian, with black Cyrillic lettering measuring 40cm high, on a concrete wall of a neighbouring house.

The words convey a common lament among conscription-aged Russian men abroad, who can be pressed into military service to fight against Ukraine if they return to Russia.

The work of art, however, has found little sympathy on Indonesia’s tourist island of Bali, and drawn flak for disrespecting local culture.

Ovseikin, 34, refers to his work as a mural. Speaking from Montenegro, where he resides for now, he said he is a “refugee” deserving empathy, like many Russians.

“If I fly to Russia, I can be forced to join the army and fight Ukrainians and kill people... I have a lot of friends living in Ukraine. I did not start the war and I want it to end,” he said.

To others, his work is just much graffiti. It has touched off a firestorm of criticism that reflects growing frustration among Indonesian residents, politicians and police towards the nearly 15,000 Russians who have settled in Bali since the onset of the Ukraine war.On Ovseikin’s personal Instagram account @zukclub, where posts typically receive a few dozen comments, the post of the Canggu mural received over 720 comments – many of them critical – and 4,000 likes. The message has struck a nerve among locals and non-Russian expats alike.

“Very disrespectful,” @nachoaor, a Spanish national living in Bali, commented on Instagram.

“What about the locals? What about the international community that doesn’t speak Russian? Totally unacceptable.”

Ni Luh Djalantik, a local entrepreneur who has amassed 433,000 followers on Instagram in part by taking a hard line with foreigners behaving badly, said Ovseikin was disrespecting Balinese norms.

“If I go to Moscow and scribble ‘Om Swastyastu’ in Sanskrit on a random house, what would happen to me?” she asked, referring to the traditional Balinese greeting.

She posted a video in late January of her confrontation with a teenager, also a Russian, who was spray- painting graffiti on the wall outside an elementary school.

The boy’s father publicly apologised and made his son paint over the graffiti in front of the police, local media reported on Jan 31.

“This is not about a particular nationality,” Ni Luh said.

“This is our home. We build temples to show our devotion to our home until the day we die. If foreigners want to make Bali their home, they must respect it as we do.”The sudden influx of Russian – mostly male – expatriates with little experience of living abroad has brought some of them to the attention of the local authorities.

Most come into contact with the police owing to traffic accidents, Bali police spokesman Stefanus Satake Bayu Setiono said.

At the end of last year, roughly a tenth of the 80 or so foreigners serving jail sentences in Bali were Russian nationals.

They share the dubious distinction of being the second-biggest group of foreigners serving time on the island – mostly for drug offences – alongside US citizens. — The Straits Times/ANN

Article type: free
User access status:
Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Sergei Ovseikin , Bali , street artist


Next In Aseanplus News

Zii Jia storms into semi-finals of Swiss Open
U.S. imposes fresh sanctions on Myanmar, targets jet fuel suppliers
Five enforcement officers among nine arrested for providing MyKad to undocumented migrants
Controversial gold mine reopens in Thailand, six years after it was closed down
Asean News Headlines at 9pm on Friday (March 24, 2023)
Indonesia volcano Mount Ili Lewotolok erupts, spews tower of smoke and ash of 1km
Thai PM’s party vows to prioritise foreign investments ahead of May election
Philippines' creative economy exceeds US$29bil in 2022
France to ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants -minister
Vietnam may resist diplomatic upgrade with Washington as US-China tensions simmer

Others Also Read