Due to its long history of autocratic and dictatorial rule, Russia has never received high marks in the human-rights department. Even today, with a formalized albeit controlled democracy in place, human-rights violations still characterize this former superpower. Over the last few months, Russia has been in the news for its ban on gay propaganda — another addition to the list of human-rights abuses that have taken place there.
But really, who needs human rights when you have animals? The Russian government has seemingly shifted its focus from its citizens to its citizens’ pets through various initiatives, such as the photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his two dogs. Household pets even work for the Russian government — the State Hermitage Museum employs 65 stray cats to keep mice away from the exhibits. Recently, to honor these hard-working animals, the State Museum commissioned Eldar Zarikov, an Uzbek artist whose Deviant Art profile appears here, to create six cat portraits inspired by the artwork of the museum galleries. These portraits depict cats in extravagant costumes from the tsarist era, and they are to appear in the museum’s Hermitage Magazine.
Without further ado, I present the Hermitage Cat Portraits.
This portrait depicts a black cat dressed in a rich red, blue, and gold jacket. The cat’s vibrant eyes and smug expression remind the viewer of a tsarist or Soviet leader secure in his power. Perhaps the cat knows he is above mere humans — after all, he gets his own portrait while Russian citizens barely get the right to free speech.
The Court Moor Cat, wearing a heavy blue and gold coat, stares out at the viewer with piercing eyes. These very eyes conjure images of previous dictatorial leaders who ruled through fear and without compromise. In light of Russia’s recent legislative decisions, it seems not much has changed on the latter front.
Unlike the last two portraits, the Waiter Cat has an expression of elation. Wearing a gold-trimmed red jacket, this cat possesses a dignified grin to go along with his moustache-like whiskers. He knows that he has a secure job while 5.3% of Russians remain unemployed.
The Chamber Herald Cat stands with his back toward the viewer as he stares into the distance. Wearing a silver-lined red coat and holding an ornate wooden cane, this cat possesses no interest in the needs of mere humans. This portrait must have been easy to create considering Russia knows how to turn its back on the needs of its citizens.
With his heavily embroidered blue jacket, the Outrunner Cat assumes the position of a patriarchal figure in a family portrait. The paternalistic nature of tsarist and Soviet rule comes through in this portrait, and it is obvious that the government still thinks of its citizens as children who need to be controlled and disciplined.
Of all the portraits, the Confectioner Apprentice Cat most closely resembles a human. The contemplative expression and position of his hands makes it seem almost like Zarikov just took an existing painting and replaced the human with a cat. It is a fitting conclusion to a series of portraits that together highlight how the Russian government has shifted its focus from human to animals.
They’re cats, people. Cats.