The Russian Artist Serving Up Surrealism on Instagram

Meet Alice Hualice, the pioneering image-maker behind our new favourite feed.

Every now and then, while mindlessly scrolling through your Instagram feed to fill time between train stops, an image will shake you from your commuter daydreams. Sometimes it’s an excellent throwback — that time when Björk and PJ Harvey took part in a ’90s photoshoot together — but better still is the excitement of discovering a new artist, especially one whose work you would likely never stumble across in your day-to-day existence. Enter: Alice Hualice, a 23-year-old Russian artist based in Nizhny Tagil — a small industrial city in Russia’s mountainous Sverdlovsk Oblast region. Hualice’s Instagram account is a universe unto itself, filled with beguiling imagery in a distinctly surrealist vernacular.

Hualice’s work weaves handmade creations into the patchwork of her everyday life. Hand-sewn dolls — crafted from natural fabrics, with lumpy, naive features — crop up against woodland backdrops, or sit alongside Hualice and her friends in dimly lit interiors. The artist regularly dons a variety of masks — some mirroring the faces of the dolls, others reminiscent of Jean Cocteau’s memorable collaboration with Elsa Schiaparelli, produced in tulle and bearing surrealist attributes, in lace, beading or embroidery. Ceramic breasts, and outfits adorned with intricately rendered anatomical detailing are also trademark features of Hualice’s artfully sculpted world.

There is a childlike escapism to her oeuvre, tinged with an unsettling quality that’s hard to define. “I like to talk about my fears, about some kind of childhood trauma, internal pain,” the artist tells SLEEK candidly. “When I express this through my work, then I cleanse my body of the bad. I also like the theme of corporeality, the fragility of the human body.”

These poignant, deeply personal undertones, as well as Hualice’s organic use of textiles, is evocative of the work of Louise Bourgeois — an artist she much admires. “When I started to engage in textile arts, I became interested in who else had worked in the medium. It was then that I found out about Louise Bourgeois. Her story is a bit like mine, which is why I think I was so attracted to her work.”

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Much like Bourgeois, however, it is from her own life that Hualice draws most of her inspiration. “My works and I have always been inextricably together,” she reflects. “I believe that’s the only way I can be sincere. I immerse the work in my life and myself into the work as much as possible.” She means this literally as well as metaphorically; from a photograph of the artist leaning from a cottage window in a folkloric mask to a snapshot of her standing in a sun-kissed field, a collaged figure in one of her masks looming above her menacingly, Hualice herself is a constant presence. It is for this reason, the artist explains, that the female body appears so frequently in her work, rather than any overarching feminist agenda.

Her hometown also has a marked impact on her output: “I love working with the place I live in,” she says. “We are very unusual here. The city is quite industrial, but there are a lot of fields and mountains surrounding it and you walk for 10 minutes, you will be in the forest. This contrast is very inspiring.”

But living in such a remote region could easily have its downfalls, offering artists little opportunity to show their work. Which is why Instagram has proved such a blessing. “This is my personal gallery, where I can show everything the way I want to,” Hualice enthuses. “I’ve been making art for six years and I joined Instagram in 2014. There is always an audience here. Many people have learned about me through Instagram.” One such person is Russian designer Roma Uvarov, who invited Hualice to collaborate on his Spring/Summer 2018 collection, which featured garments bearing the artist’s signature anatomical detailing. “I like that from my small Russian town, I can show my works to the whole world without leaving home,” Hualice says happily. And we’re so pleased to be privy to her spellbinding creations.

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