Andrey Sakharov – Academician of Conscience

Graphic novel by Katya Guschina

Katya Guschina came to the International Memorial seeking advice on her printmaking final project which she dedicated to Andrey Sakharov (hopefully, our suggestions have been helpful). We returned the favor by coming to Katya’s final year project presentation and invited her to display her works in our exhibition area.

This year marked the 100th birthday of Andrey Sakharov, and we are expecting another 100 years of exploring the ways to reflect on an individual struggling against a totalitarian regime and winning this battle. Katya Guschina, who was born when Sakharov had no longer been around, comes forward with her own approach.

Well, I decided to make а book about academician Andrey Sakharov. Eventually, I managed to accomplish it, but it took some time to get there.

There is no way you can make а nice thing without love. In order to fall in love with Andrei Sakharov, I had to understand him. As it turned out, I was actually closer to him than it had seemed to me, and we have much in common. Firstly, Sakharov claimed that the university played а decisive role in his life. So it did in mine. Secondly, we both lived in the city of Nizhny Novgorod for some time, although it used to be named Gorky at the time of Sakharov’s exile. Thirdly, I too have been transformed by love. 

Thankfully, more and more pieces of information about the conditions of dissidents’ life under the Soviet regime are being revealed nowadays. Therefore we can get deeper awareness and understanding of the darkness and horrors these people faced. It still doesn’t help us with the question – how did they manage to cope with this terror? In my work I am presenting one of the possible answers. It is not the only option and not a magic wand, but it is simple and works more often than never. The way to fight darkness is to laugh, to mock the darkness itself. The laughter found its way through fairy tales in verse by Chukovsky and Soviet jokes (called Anecdotes in Russian). We need to laugh in order to see that the Emperor has no clothes on. We need to laugh, so that we can encourage а friend or lighten the mood. 

I made these drawings using the drypoint technique and a ballpoint pen. Drypoint was used to depict the Soviet reality: massive, black and white, unshakeable. The image is incised into plastic with а needle, then it is covered with paint and then pressed and printed on paper. The result is a black and white print, a bit noisy like a front page of the Soviet newspaper Pravda but with a touch of vibrancy, reminiscent of the satirical magazine Krokodil. Meanwhile, Sakharov and other dissidents went beyond those grey brick walls, beyond the limitations of the era. You can’t capture them with a needle and paint. That’s why Sakharov, his texts and talks and the people around him are always depicted with а ballpoint pen over the drypoint impressions.

The work process wasn’t always perfect or easy. At the time when I had been especially doubtful about the prospects of my work, I found а fascinating letter addressed to Andrei Sakharov, to the Committee of Human Rights Defense. The letter was sent by someone with а surname Gushchin. From then on, I had no doubts.

Katya Guschina

Artist and cartographer Katya Guschina who draws travel books, comics, graphic novels and fieldwork illustrations received her bachelor’s degree in graphic design in 2017 from HSE University (Higher School of Economics), Moscow, Russia. In the same year her first book ‘Crazy Year’ picturing her trip to Iran was published. In 2018 her travel book on the journey across Russia on Trans-Siberian railway appeared in print and her third book, the illustrated bio "100 reasons why Lev Tolstoy is crying’, is under way.

In 2021 Katya received her Master’s Degree from HSE University by presenting her drypoint print graphic novel about Andrey Sakharov. This work is displayed in our exhibition area.

Project Design and Set-Up:

Anna Bulgakova
Katya Guschina
Alexandra Polivanova

We are grateful to those who have helped us with the project:

Boris Belenkin
Elena Zhemkova
Tatyana Kormer
Yegor Larichev
Aleksey Makarov
Alexandra Okhotina
Natalya Petrova
Vladimir Salmin
Nataliya Stefanovich
Darya Fadeeva

We are grateful to the Delegation of the European Union to Russia for the support

You can visit the exhibition ‘Andrey Sakharov – Academician of Conscience’ in the hallway of the International Memorial from September 9 to December 25, 2021. Opening hours are 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily except Sundays


Представительство Европейского Союза в Российской Федерации