Elizaveta Rukavishnikova

17 May 2024 — 18 August 2024
  • Elizaveta Rukavishnikova. Signs

Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art presents an exhibition by Elizaveta Rukavishnikova whose artworks entrance the viewers with their enigmatic patterns and encrypted mysteries

  • A highly original artistic practice referred to as ‘abstract calligraphy’

  • Artworks created in South Africa and inspired by Zulu artifacts

  • Scrolls covered with cryptic handwriting that is up to the viewer to interpret


Artist Elizaveta Rukavishnikova spent nine years of her life in Johannesburg, South Africa. The time lived there profoundly influenced her personality and worldview. The scroll-like works featured in the show also date from that period. This is how the artist explains their origin: ‘I went to the Johannesburg Art Gallery and saw a lot of ancient Zulu artefacts, the purpose of many of which remains unknown. I was particularly inspired by one piece that looked like a space rocket. After seeing the exhibition, I went to my studio and started obsessively writing all these strange monochrome characters. They happened to be blue – simply because I am fond of this colour and had a large stock of blue paint in the studio. I spent nearly two months in this trance-like state. Everyone thought I was nuts, and only one guy I shared my studio with, head of the fine arts department at the local university, provided continuous support.’

African writing systems are unlike those we are used to in that they are based on a different understanding of language, by far more emotional and intuitive. Although many peoples of Africa have written languages, the symbols inscribed by Elizaveta bear no resemblance to any actual sign system. The practice of composing such texts is usually referred to as ‘abstract calligraphy.’ Struggling to decipher the inscription, the viewer inadvertently focuses on the form and structure of ‘writing’: in the absence of commonly accepted meaning, attention shifts to the aesthetic beauty of the characters. The ‘reading’ process recalls the Rorschach psychological test whereby a person’s subconscious is revealed through the interpretation of abstract inkblots: every viewer projects his or her own meanings and stories onto the text.

The oldest known manmade symbols were discovered in the Auditorium Cave in Bhimbetka, India. These round cupola-like hollows and circular lines gouged out of rock were created between 700th and 290th millennia BC during the Acheulean period of the Lower Palaeolithic era, while the circles and dots found in the Cave of El Castillo in Spain were painted with pigment around the 39th millennium BC. Although exact meaning of these images is unknown, it is generally believed that the circles in ancient cultures are solar signs representing the sun and the sacral cycle of life and death. Just like the archaic petroglyphs, Elizaveta Rukavishnikova’s creations are perceived more on the subconscious, intuitive level, allowing for multiple interpretations.

In the artist’s own words, ‘I enjoyed great inner freedom while creating these works. I, too, would like to know where these scrolls are taking me, since to the present day hardly any character appeared twice, and all scrolls taken together form a kind of a library of signs and symbols.’ Nowadays Elizaveta lives in Moscow and works in graphic media; nevertheless, she is convinced that she can always re-enter that special state in which her mind generates a sign system of its own and her hand covers ten-metre scrolls with writings.

about the artist

Born in Moscow in 1988, Elizaveta Rukavishnikova enrolled at the Easel Painting Department of the Moscow Academic Art College in 2010. Having lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, between 2014 and 2023, the artist currently resides and works in Moscow. Her works were exhibited at the DOCA 2023 Contemporary Art Festival in Moscow, in Chapter 5IVE (Het HEM, Zaandam, Netherlands) and Emerging Russia (National Museum of Decorative Art, Moscow) group shows, as well as in a number of solo exhibitions at 99 Loop Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) and Kalashnikovv Gallery (Johannesburg, South Africa).

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