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June 13, 2013 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-06-13

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>> ... Next Generation ...

Post-Soviet Graffiti

Detroiter showcases her research
of free expression in Eastern Europe.



hile many in their mid-20s are just trying
to get their bearings in the "real world"
and establish themselves in a career, Alexis
Zimberg of Detroit already has made a name
for herself within a field she is extremely passionate about:
freedom of expression in Post-Soviet countries.
Zimberg graduated from McGill University in Montreal
with a bachelor's degree in political
science and Russian studies and earned
a master's degree from Georgetown
University's Center for Eurasian, Russian
and Eastern European Studies in
Washington, D.C. Now she's back in
Detroit and has founded Post-Soviet
Graffiti, a research and culture hub that
seeks to explore alternative avenues of
expression in the Post-Soviet region.
Zimberg returned here in 2012, after
hearing about CommunityNEXT's Live
Detroit Fund, which provides rent subsidies to selected young
adults who choose to live Downtown.
"It's the only place I would live," Zimberg says. "All my
friends are in the city, the energy is very exciting and the
community is unmatched."
Growing up, she attended Tamarack Camps for 12 years
and was later a counselor there. Her involvement in the
Jewish community continues, as she is currently active in the
Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit and tries to
keep Shabbos.

Post-Soviet Project

Zimberg's research focuses on Eastern Europe, which she sees
as an inherently Jewish area.
"Eastern Europe is Jewish to me," she says. "You see the
old synagogues. In Prague, you see that clocks on the street
have Hebrew letters; and you see the old cemeteries and lines
of the ghetto in Poland."
She went to Russia in June 2009 as part of a research
project during graduate school at Georgetown, studying at St.
Petersburg State University. She returned in 2011 and 2012
on grants, and is going to Warsaw and Berlin this June for
While in Eastern Europe, Zimberg noticed people weren't
expressing themselves freely in the news, but showed a clear
disdain of the government through street art. This sparked her

interest and inspired her to start Post Soviet A piece by Misha Most
(See his work at www.mishamost.com .)
showing parts of the
"Not many people really think of the
Russian constitution
Zimberg believes street art is popular
constitution," says Most, who considers his
blocked out
in the Post-Soviet area because it's
work a social project.
anonymous. Authorities are able to track
The Post-Soviet Graffiti logo was
dissent on the Internet, writings or music.
designed by a friend of Zimberg, Rebeccah
"Street art is great because it's very accessible to all types
Mary Hartz of Montreal.
of people whether they're rich or poor; anyone can see it and
"The logo's image is taken from a common theme
internalize it," Zimberg says.
in Eastern European/Russian graffiti," Hartz says. "The
One of Zimberg's most memorable experiences was
government's censorship of media outlets leaves citizens
taking the train into Belarus on July 3, 2011 — Belarusian
feeling forcibly blinded from the reality of their surroundings
Independence Day, commemorating the end of Nazi
and gagged from expressing their truths. But the use of
occupation in 1944. Zimberg says it was as if an attempted
graffiti in these countries constitutes an underground
revolution had fallen into her lap, as people began to revolt
alternative to government-manipulated journalism, and is a
against the current government led by President Alexander
valuable forum for an otherwise stifled population."
Through her work with Post-Soviet Graffiti, Zimberg has
"I thought there'd be marches, but I didn't think there'd be
begun to plan different events in Metro Detroit.
protests like that in such a strict state," she says. "It was so
"My goal is to one, create community that doesn't have to
beautiful how people wanted to work together to change it. I
do with bars [but is] based on values, education and cultural
respect them so much for their bravery."
tradition," Zimberg says.
Of the artists she has encountered, two standouts are
"Two, raise awareness. I have a mission and an agenda:
Grino and Misha Most. Grino and his crew primarily do giant
I want people to know that in Hungary, Jewish life is
murals of sorrowful Soviet women that, according to Zimberg,
threatened. I want them to ask questions about it, and I want
are "beautiful, painful [and] nostalgic."
to talk about it as much as possible.
Most, who is now venturing into the world of galleries as
"And three, create discourse — get people talking to each
well as street art, does many types of work, including critiques
other and talking to me about expression and alternative
of the Russian constitution by writing passages of the
expression and inspire them to express themselves in non-
constitution on canvases and walls and blocking out words.
harmful ways." ❑


• Alexis Zimberg will be showing fieldwork photographs from her travels
to Eastern Europe through July 25 at the Janice Charach Gallery in the Jewish
Community Center in West Bloomfield as part of the exhibit "Let My People Go: The
Soviet Jewry Movement 1967-1989." She also will be giving a lecture entitled "The
Spray Can is Mightier Than the Sword" at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 20. This event is
free and open to the public.
• She also is a partner of Cinema Tov: Detroit Jewish Film Lab, which will be
showing 400 Miles to Freedom, the story of an Orthodox Jewish community in


June 13 • 2013


Ethiopia, at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 16, at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
For more on upcoming movie showings, visit their Facebook page at "Cinema Tov:
Detroit Jewish Film Lab."
• Zimberg, as part of Post-Soviet Graffiti, is opening a store on Etsy.com to sell
prints of her street art photographs as well as copies of her books and merchandise
featuring the Post-Soviet Graffiti logo. Her second book, Post-Soviet Graffiti;
Free Speech in the Streets, will be released this summer. Pre-sale for the book
begins June 20 on amazon.com and her website (www.postsovietgraffiti.com ); order
forms also will be available at her Charach Gallery lecture.

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