Dimitri Venkov is one of the emerging generation of politically-engaged artists in Moscow. Venkov works across the broad spectrum of film-ma-king approaches, from cinematic to documentary, seeking to reflect the conditions of society divided by politics, history and social conventions.

His documentary I Wanted to be Happy in the USSR (2017) follows the struggle of Guinean immigrant George Blemu, together with his Ukrainian wife Elena and their two daughters Anne and Maria in Moscow. Blemu, came to the USSR to be a medical student in 1979 under what was then the official policy of “friendships among peoples”, with the intention to settle. The dissolution of the USSR and the eventual rise of nationalist sentiments in Russia led to an increase of hate speech and violence towards non-Russians. For Blemu and his family violence and hostility became everyday experiences, even being stabbed by the police, or in the case of their daughter Maria, physically attacked within the care of the school. Under these unliveable circumstances, Blemu and his family have no option but to leave, and following advice, they eventually travel to Norway under a tourist visa, seeking asylum. Blemu’s story is testimony to conditions in Russia today, where those who don’t fit the image of national monoculture, struggle to survive in the daily presence of violence. The film is a work-in-progress. The second part will be concerned with the family’s life in Norway.

The work was presented at Myrorna-Järntorget.

Dimitri Venkov is based in Moscow.

Supported by The Cultural Foundation of the Swedish Postcode Lottery.

I Wanted to be Happy in the USSR, 2017, film still. Courtesy the artist.