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June 18, 2020  

Marina Ahun — A Princeton Painter — From the Collapse of the Soviet Union to The Hardship of COVID-19

June 18, 2020

 

Marina.jpg

 

Marina Ahun's website: https://www.marinaahun.com/

 

Stanislas Berteloot
Hello, Marina Ahun or Ahun-Babaeva, Welcome to back in America.

Marina Ahun
Thank you.

Stanislas Berteloot
Marina, you are an artist and I would like you to tell me about your art. How would you describe your art style

Marina Ahun
I have different art styles different. I move back and forth between two styles: realistic presentation of subject matter and abstract, and between two mediums.

When I'm looking for urban street scenes that will become a realistic painting, I use watercolor. When I do abstract painting, I use oil. And I have no idea what the painting is going to look like when things the painting dictates its own source. The process complements one another beautifully and pure attraction, strengthen what I'm able to do when I'm painting I realistically.

Stanislas Berteloot
before being an artist, you began your carrier as an archaeology core artist. Talk to me about some of the projects you worked on at the time.

Marina Ahun
I draw all things archeological found in the ground, coins, sculptures terracotta, or whatever when they found

Stanislas Berteloot
and where were you working at the time?

Marina
That time I lived in Uzbekistan and married a native Uzbek.

Uzbekistan is in Muslim country

and in 13 years I was in Uzbekistan I never felt welcomed. The attitude toward Russians who is almost all white people blue eyes in Soviet block Country after collapse where uncertain especially in Muslim one

Stanislas Berteloot
let's go back to your walk at the time. You were an archaeological artist. You told us that you were drawing artifacts that were found. Where? Where did they come from those objects

Marina
from the ground in Uzbekistan is especially in Samarkand. They have real big archeologist objects, and years they working to find these big cities and just work on that.

Stanislas Berteloot
Okay. Did you like your work at the time?

Marina
Actually I drew, and I like what I did, and I see the result. And that result was published in a few books.

Stanislas Berteloot
You were born in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Tell me about your memories at the time. You know, when were you born? What can you remember from that early time of your life?

Marina
Oh I was happy as any child, around family a happy family. And I remember at the same time, I attended to middle school, music school to study play piano, art school, and study.

my choice was art, but my sister's choice was to play the piano.

Stanislas Berteloot
So What year were you born?

Marina
1962.

Stanislas Berteloot
How old were you when you move to study in St Petersburg? And how did it feel moving from, you know, your birth city to this big city in Russia?

Marina
After graduating high school, I immediately went to St. Petersburg, and six years I spent at the Repin Institute was hard but the rewarding that Institut current name is Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. And I was either very lucky or very talented to have gotten into one of the top art schools in Europe. From what I have seen, American art education is not as difficult because they don't emphasize the importance of basic education in the artistic style. This point between I think is important and after study, realistic discipline, you can move to any other style easily.

Stanislas Berteloot
but I'm also interested in your impression of the city and the life That you lived in St. Petersburg, you know, coming from the montane of this industrial city and arriving in St. Petersburg. How did it feel?

Marina
St. Petersburg is that big, big city and very, very beautiful. And every American who went there say how beautiful it is. And I was impressed. And when I felt like, not comfortable or something was going on right, we just went to the streets, just walk around the buildings, enjoy it and all my uncomfortable feelings went away.

Stanislas Berteloot
Were you living with other students at the time?

Marina
Yes, of course.

Stanislas Berteloot
Yeah. So was it a fun period of your life? Oh I think that time affects me in the best way as you can imagine, and built my character or they have to

tell me some of the best memory that you have from that time in St. Petersburg.

Marina
Oh, how

Marina
it's to deal with help from other students and from professors and they are still at high educated and they teach us each You know, brushstroke each pencil mark and but it's was a feeling realistically presentation all subject matter and we have to study hard.

Stanislas Berteloot
But that was some of your best memory the help that you got from your fellow students and your professors.

Yeah.

Okay, I see you smile on camera and I can imagine that it was a fantastic time of your life. So, despite all that, life was tough for you in Russia and you decided to move to the US in 2002. Can you give me some of the reason why you decided to move to the US

Marina 
Oh! Reason one was the collapse of the Soviet Union because living in Uzbekistan in a Muslim country here under Muslim rule, rules both as a woman and as an artist, it was really hard and difficult to everyone.

Stanislas Berteloot
So you arrived in the US you apply for political asylum because of religious discrimination? That's correct, right?

Marina
Yes, correct.

My family and my husband right now it's my ex-husband and my daughter came to the United State and relief in the form of

Stanislas Berteloot
what are some of the things that struck you when you arrived in the US? What are some of the details you remember of your first impression stepping in the US?

Marina
Oh, freedom. When I first came to America, I lived in a Russian neighborhood in Trenton because I had a friend in the group who had a friend who knew someone here. It was just the way it worked out, because I didn't know anyone here.

Stanislas Berteloot
Did you speak English when you arrived?

Marina
Oh, that time my English was really poor.

Stanislas Berteloot
So you say that one of the first feelings you had arriving in the US was freedom. But what are some of the visual images? You remember from that time? You know what are some of the things you saw? That was like very surprising to you?

Marina
Start with freedom some, my friends have picked me up from the airport and I just took around and was just impressed. She was something I never experienced in the Soviet Union. And in Uzbekistan, it's completely different architecture and completely different how people walk, how people talk, and how the are between each other. Everything is completely different

It's a different playing ground.

Stanislas Berteloot
Yeah, of course, of course. How did you manage to make a living at the time? Were you supported by a government program by nonprofit Russian groups, you know, well, how did you live

Marina
Actually. I came

in and have just a tourist visa. And after that, I applied for a work permit and green card. And in order to survive financially, I started teaching droid to private student, and almost all my student was Russian.

Stanislas Berteloot
So in 2010, you became the only licensed and commissioned artist by Princeton University. What does that really mean? And how did it help you in your work?

Marina
That time it's mean a lot. Um, I was unknown artist and

overal thinking that

my art is not perfect. But when I came to the Communication Office of Princeton University they immediately commissioned me to paint more and more and later on, they produce calendar official Princeton University calendar for 18 months and bought my 18 drawings.

Stanislas Berteloot
So that really helps you to be more known in the Princeton area more recognized as an artist right

Marina
right, right

that time I drew, just architectural renderings and some using watercolor draw flowers, portraits who is asking for having a portrait of themselves. And the time I didn't start any abstract paintings,

Stanislas Berteloot
and are you still doing this kind of realistic paintings or are you more focused on abstract painting nowadays?

Marina
Actually. I love realistic paintings. And I think it's the most beautiful painting which one can exactly produce what you see around in our nature for flowers and everything is so beautiful and just realistically representation can show you how they are.

Stanislas Berteloot
So then your life took a different turn in 2017 in the dead of winter in December, your apartment burned down and you lost everything. You have no insurance at the time, and I believe your daughter takes you with her

Is that right?

Marina
Yeah.

Oh it was a really difficult time and it was December 27 2017 end of the year and before the new year and cold cold weather and all my apartment was destroyed and most affected by that fire. And with the most affected 4 of 24 units in that building and one off that four units, it was mine and I had no insurance. I sustained the majority of the fire

and fire Fighter damage

and all my...

It's difficult to talk about this because I still didn't get a reimbursement and

I understand that having no insurance, renter's insurance, it's a real. bad choice and I can tell seven, just seven of 23 surviving tenants had renter's insurance. And it's not just me who had decided to live in a unite without renter

In unite

do not have any insurance. Oh, so so

Stanislas Berteloot
yeah. How has your life been since then

Marina
I'm still facing the

huge task of rebuilding my life and thinking God must really have a fantastic plan for me to put me through this terrible process. And I hope

one day I will not have a tear on my eyes when I talk about this and it's gonna be just memory bad my memory about just my memory. It's breaks my heart to think that this had all been a disaster without any reason. I tried to find why it's happened exactly to me. But I don't answer

Stanislas Berteloot
your religious person.

Marina
Yes, I do believe in God. Yes. And I pray God, yes, I do believe in God.

And I hope

all the religions

give you some hope. And that hope can

rebuild your life, at least hope.

Stanislas Berteloot
Why is your daughter not able to sustain you? To help you financially?

Marina
Because she's my daughter,

Stanislas Berteloot
and you don't want to depend I know

Marina
we help each other I do somethings. She did some somethings. I care about, the preparing of the food and clean everything and see offer me some support with food.

Stanislas Berteloot
We are living in difficult times and this summer you were planning to teach at Mercer Community College. But the summer camp where you were to teach has been canceled. How did that affect you?

Marina
Oh yeah

Marina
all Coronavirus things and what happened with that COVID-19 affect everyone and that exactly how lost the job. Which one I think it's gonna help me survive.

Stanislas Berteloot
So what did you do when you learn that the job was canceled?

Marina
pray God

this Coronavirus disappears.

Stanislas Berteloot
How did you manage to just survive day to day without any revenue?

Marina
I still work on my art and producing architectural renderings of Princeton University campus on Princeton. University Board bought my 18 drawings right now I produced 10 more drawings and start a new series of Gargoyles and of the Tiger of Princeton University. And I like how it's coming out. And I made postcards and I'm selling these cards through the Labirynth bookstore and Princeton University art museums tour, and they and I sold and still selling my drawing. So it gave me some sort of money. I just want to say how grateful I am that Share My Meals has been created assistance for people like me, who are in need. By providing food resources

Stanislas Berteloot
so three times a week you receive a prepared meal delivered by one of the volunteers

Marina
Yes, I received three times a week prepared food and I'm grateful to Share My Meals, people, for the amazing support

Stanislas Berteloot
The rest of the time, where do you get your food from?

Marina
I got food from Arm in Arm and Jewish center Family Center and I participate to Corner Kitchen

in a United Methodist Church,

Stanislas Berteloot
so given the situation and given all the hardship that you are going through, do you see sometimes regret leaving your mother country.

Marina
Oh, no.

No, I was

really happy to be born in the Soviet Union. And that time in the Soviet Union was a really powerful country and life until the Soviet Union collapse was really good. And I was happy to live there and I'm so glad that I was born there. But after, like 1990s life in the Soviet Union was so bad and still not really comfortable as I know from my friends

Stanislas Berteloot
Do you have a message that you would like to communicate with people or maybe something that your experience your life experience has taught you so far?

Marina
I think the most important is that you never know what life will throw at you and everyone can experience a terrible tragedy like a fire or flood and just need to come down and pray God `and I think the lesson which one gave to your lifestyle supposed to be taken and have some study from that plus some and I did.

Stanislas Berteloot
Okay, thank you. So finally, my, the last question I have, which I've always asked in every single episode of Back in America is, what is America to you?

Marina
America, for me, is a good country.

And I wonder, if the same situation had happened in Russia, what I'm gonna do, and how are you gonna survived? And I think that it's gonna be a worse situation than what I experienced in the United States. And I just want to thanks everyone in the Princeton community for their help and support and God Bless all the people of Princeton.

Stanislas Berteloot
Marina, thank you so much for accepting to share your story with Back in America. And good luck to you.

Marina
Thank you, Stan. Thank you. Thank you