Be Nothing, or Everything

Be Nothing, or Everything

“Oh my God! Do you know what this is?”

“A uniform.” Her husband answered with a clueless certainty.

The owners of my favorite dry cleaners are a delightful couple who immigrated separately from the Soviet Union when they were both very young. He had served in the military and was allowed to pack a few photographs. Her family, however, left everything behind. No money. No keepsakes. No school uniforms. Nothing, except the clothes on their backs.

“Where’d you get this?

She regarded the faded black and white dress gingerly, the way one might touch a long lost relative - wouldn’t want to hold on too tight, in case it turned out to be a mirage.

“It belongs to an artist. Maria Buyondo is her name. This uniform is a part of her installation on memory. It arrived wrinkled. I thought we should have it pressed before the exhibition.”

My explanation was cut short by her own reflections...

“I wore one of these every day to school. My mother would unstitch the sleeves to hand wash at night, then sew everything back together by morning. We had to be clean and spotless. Red scarf tied just so. If we got it wrong, we were marched back home to make it right?”

She flipped the dress over. 

“Where’d you say you got this?” With her second inquiry came tears.


Each show reveals new and pleasant surprises. Stories from people affected by particular works. Unexpected relationships with emerging artists from around the world. Pushkin, a three-part installation by Russian born Maria Buyondo examines poetry, identity, and recollection. It is a moving piece that garners many questions from visitors. 

What is she saying in the video?
The artist is reciting poetry by Alexander Pushkin. She had to memorize this poem in Moscow when she first started school. She’s attempting to remember what she once knew.

Why is there a statue of Lenin in the background?
Probably because it was taken during the Communist rule.

Is she selling this uniform?
She is. Interested?

What attracted me to Maria’s work was her examination of race as a native of Moscow. The daughter of a Russian mother and Ugandan father, her school photograph reflects the artist’s feelings of displacement in society. In The Day I Descovered I Was Colored, little Maria stands center stage, her afro in halo formation, her brown skin in shadow, her class chums, a sea of white. Upon her move to New York City, she encountered a different pressure, one that demanded she choose a box. Instead, Maria chose to make the statement, “It’s okay to be nothing or everything.” 


Header Image: Installation view at On The Ground Floor of Pushkin by Maria Buyondo

Written by Malika Ali Harding