Informal Spaces: Graffiti Culture in Russian Non-Urban Centers

This ethnographic project is part of the final project of the online course “Intro to Ethnography” by National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), sponsored by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) within the Ministry of Education of India (MEI).

[This will eventually become an academic article upon the completion of the project]

Based on the digital ethnographic work done below, it can be said that a form of graffiti culture exists throughout the Russian nation, in a variety of forms, and incorporating a myriad of expressionary means. Specific semiotics and expressionary idiosyncrasies also exist depending on the artist and the message that is trying to be conveyed. Graffiti culture in Russia is said to have begun consonant with the rise of Russian hip hop culture (c. early 90s),[1] although there is room to argue it began earlier as rap began as early as the 1980s with the group ‘Rush Hour.’ Around its beginning, graffiti culture would gain social presence with the creation of dictionaries of terms associated with the graffiti subculture. As Andreev (201) notes,

“It is the untranslated and untransliterated words that make up the primary layer of the lexicon of Russian graffiti artists, objectifying and at the same time forming the conceptosphere of this subcultural community.”

Is the language of Russian graffiti English or Russian? (Andreev 2010)

Tagging is a common element in graffiti outside the main centers of graffiti culture in Russia (i.e., St. Petersburg and Moscow), and the usage of color is not a definite trait nor eccentric artistry. Rather, there is a more utilitarian element in the graffiti of periphery cities and non-public localities. There is also an element of societal pushback which can be observed in numerous photos. Despite the ubiquity of hip hop culture in Russia today, in terms of graffiti there is still pushback against its presence. However, this may be the case due to the “hooligan” aspect of graffiti culture that lies outside the realm of accessible artistic expression. Because the graffiti in non-sanctioned contexts tend to portray community-based meaning and encoded semiotics which those outside the community cannot understand, there seems to be pushback against its presence within more occupied areas.

There is also a blending of English and Russian used in the language of graffiti artists, although whether this is a ubiquitous trait in Russian graffiti is unknown. Further, the usage of pictorialism rather than word-based art is a trait seen but is not the norm, as well as usage of more than one color or colors other than black. This may have to do with accessible materials. Some of the most popular spaces for graffiti artists within these informal spaces seems to be abandoned buildings, sides of apartment builds, walls, and less observable spaces where social gatherings can be facilitated (i.e., tunnels, overhangs, parking lots). Given the multiple layers of graffiti in some areas, the assumption that these spaces become places of social gathering can be said, and may be places that are visited more than once by members of the graffiti community. Artists of the graffiti below are anonymous, although based on the tags they might be able to be identified by those within the community who are able read the tags and ascertain their authorship. Additional infusion of political activism and graffiti is also observable, demonstrating that those within the Russian graffiti culture use their artform to express their views on the contemporary climate of their surroundings in an anonymous manner. There are also vast disparities in the complexity of tags, some being far less complicated than others leading to the conclusion that the membership in the Russian graffiti culture incorporates a diversity in artistic capabilities.

The ongoing notes of the project can be accessed here.


  1. Tula Oblast (Тула Область)

2. Voronezh Oblast (Воронежская область)

3. Krasnodar, Krasnodar Krai (Краснода́рский край)

4. Novosibirsk, Novosibirsk Oblast (Новосиби́рская о́бласть)

5. Ufa, Bashkortostan Republic (Башкортостан)

6. Kirov, Kirov Oblast(Киров Область)

Literature and Resource