Russian Artists Lose the Tools of Their Trades as Companies Pull Out

In a call from his car on Sunday, a Moscow photographer explained why he was driving to Tbilisi, Georgia, leaving behind his apartment and essentially his entire life.

One, he has no work. No one knows whether he is shooting for a fashion look book or organizing the parties he usually photographs. Western publications he worked for were all withdrawn from Russia, wary of a new law that makes spreading “false information” about the war in Ukraine punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

He said the legislation and the harsh crackdown on anti-war protesters in recent weeks made him feel he had to leave.

“There was always a line that we could all feel — what you definitely can’t and what you can’t,” said Alexander, 39. Didn’t want to give his last name due to security concerns. “That line is gone. Anything can happen.”

Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shocked the world, Russians working in the creative fields found themselves squeezed in and out. The Kremlin’s swift crackdown on freedom of expression has prompted some to remain silent or flee the country to avoid being arrested. And Western companies’ decisions to stop doing business in Russia – including website hosting services, software makers and financial services firms – have stripped them of many modern tools of business.

With the withdrawal of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Wise and other financial services companies from the Russian market, Russians have been unable to pay for any subscriptions outside Russia – for example, website hosting, Spotify, Netflix, newspapers and For magazines – or to receive money through sites like Patreon or from employers in Europe or the United States.

Adobe, which makes software that creative workers around the world rely on, has stopped sales in Russia, as has Canon, Nikon and Microsoft, among others. And Sony, Warner Music and Universal, the three biggest music conglomerates, announced last week that they were suspending operations in Russia. Workers in the creative sector felt the effects of the evacuation within days. On Monday morning, 44-year-old Moish Soloway, who owns a record label for Russian artists working with a Sony-owned distributor, attempted to upload one of his artists’ new albums to a platform, Which will allow the song to be played on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and beyond.

System response: “Not approved for sale.”

Aloevera, a band that recently joined Mr. Soloway’s label, has been quietly banned from playing at multiple venues, festivals and concerts in Russia for over a year. Lead singer Vera Muselian, 34, said aloe vera joined a list of prohibited musical acts that Russian security services called concerts when she and another partner protested and she married an opposition politician. and broadcast to the organizers of the event.

To earn a small income and maintain relationships with fans, the band has relied on Patreon, a platform where members can subscribe to receive content from musicians, podcasters, and others. Last week, Patreon sent an email to its creators in Russia saying they needed to immediately withdraw any funds stored with the platform, as the suspension of PayPal, Visa and MasterCard services in Russia would allow them to lose their money in the future. use can be prevented.

Patreon “was a way for our listeners to say they were still with us,” Musselian said. “Now they can’t pay for their membership.” Visa and MasterCard cards issued in Russia no longer work for payments outside the country.

Patreon’s head of US policy, Ellen Satterwhite, said in a statement that the company is “doing everything we can to support creators within the law and international financial limits in Ukraine and Russia.”

Mr. Soloway compared developments in recent times to the artistic isolation of the Soviet Union. “The Soviet government was intimidated by rock ‘n’ roll,” said Mr. Soloway.

Rock and jazz and other musical styles from the West were banned during the Soviet period, although an underground scene flourished. Today, American companies are blocking new music from playing in Russia, including songs that can stand up to the war in Ukraine, Mr. Soloway said.

Of course, with laws that forbid even calling war a war, and block social media platforms like Facebook and independent media outlets, the government is rooting out creative expression.

For visual artists, Russia’s shutdown of Instagram on Sunday meant the loss of a global platform where they shared their portfolios, sold prints and met people who would commission their work.

“My Instagram is my business card, it’s where I build my brand, where I communicate with my audience,” said 30-year-old Anastasia Venkova, a conceptual and performance artist who recently died of security concerns. had fled to Moscow. “I have a website but nobody goes there. Gallerists don’t want your website anyway, they want your Instagram.”

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram said on twitter That the government’s “decision will cut off 80 million in Russia from one another, and the rest of the world,” and that 80 percent of Instagram users in Russia follow an account from another country. “This is wrong,” he said.

Ms Venkova said many of her followers will hopefully stick to using a VPN, but she is concerned if the Russian government labels Meta, which owns Instagram, as an “extremist organization” – a process that has already been done. Has been put in motion – even having an Instagram account could put her in danger.

Anya, a Moscow photographer who said she did not want to give her last name for security, said she used to work with international brands such as Estée Lauder, but now has no clients, as they all share their business. out of the country.

Canon, where it buys its supplies, has Stopped product delivery in Russia, Photoshop, which it relies on for editing, is owned by Adobe, which Also suspended sales and services in Russia, The company hosting Anya’s website sent her an email saying that it would not provide services to users registered in Russia because of the actions of “your authoritarian government”.

Anya said such restrictions would not affect the elite, who have bank accounts and have a lot of money hidden or hidden abroad. “It’s killing precisely those who go out to protest,” she said. “People who live in big cities, who travel, who have friends all over the world, who have international jobs and who don’t support the government. They are now forced to leave the country or stop working.”

He said his problems were much smaller than the violence in Ukraine. “I will do anything to stop this war,” she said. But, she said, “the problem with some of these sanctions is that the country will shut down even more. It will play into Putin’s propaganda. ‘See how the West treats us, they put these sanctions on us. ‘ It strengthens him.”

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