Gift of Life in Russia helped Natalia Dudina overcome lymphoblastic leukaemia. Now she works as an artist and designer. Her story inspires us to believe in ourselves, and more importantly, proves that there is nothing that is impossible. Our contributing writer Ksenia Kazintseva spoke with Natalia about her experience.

Ksenia Kazintseva: How did you get into art? I read that one of your original artistic directions was gymnastics, do your current works allude to that, or are you focusing more on painting?

Natalia Dudina: You’re right, from a young age I did gymnastics, for around ten years. I planned to continue being in sport, but soon had no choice but to change direction. I found another way of expressing myself in remembering an aspect of my life that had been constant – drawing. I even had a folder with drawings in case I did something cheeky. Every time I knew I’d be told off for doing something, I turned to my saving grace – the folder, which I constantly added to. In hopes that it will soften the blow, I gave my parents a drawing each time before they found out about whatever I had done. At first, it really did work, until they figured out how the two are related and when receiving a new piece, would ask what happened right away. That’s how my artwork grew into a hobby that I still hold dear.

Despite shifting gears, the gesture of the body is still very near to me, and I continue to dance. I have a dream to create a project which will merge the two very significant parts of my life. I already started working on it, but there aren’t quite enough resources to bring it to life just yet. I know that everything is still ahead though!

Chulpan Khamatova and Natalya Dudina. Photo credit Evgenia Basyrova

Ksenia Kazintseva: I also read that you are working in design, what are you working on currently? What kind of design do you focus on? Does it correlate with your drawing, or is it a separate practice of bringing creativity into every day?

Natalia Dudina: At the moment I’m doing mainly interior design. I’m currently running a project for an office space alongside another for an apartment. Soon, I might also take on another living space. Earlier on, I was mainly focused on children’s furniture. In-between the design work, I exhibited at a private gallery as well. I’ve moved into more freelance work rather than set working hours because that way I can still make time for personal projects. In regards to drawing and painting, occasionally I get a wall or two for murals, which I take on with great pleasure.

Ksenia Kazintseva: What is the focal point of your fine art? Are there any recurring motifs?

Natalia Dudina: More often not, it comes in the moment. But there are some ongoing images that don’t leave me alone for weeks until they’ve been realised. These usually come from being overwhelmed both positively and negatively. I remember after a trip to Prague I couldn’t sleep until I reflected on the experience through painting. My friend and I accidentally came across this “mystical cave” of a local artist. The exhibition space was arranged in such a way that although you come into someone’s regular looking home, it feels like you have fallen into a fairytale about dragons, nymphs, elves and other creatures alike. All the walls, ceilings, floors – every little detail was transformed by the artist into a world that’s come off the pages of Tolkien or Lewis Carol book. Absolutely every wall of the three storey house was covered in paintings with magical motifs. As if portals to other worlds, where only fantasy exists and nothing else. I couldn’t but be touched by it. We almost missed the flight because we didn’t want to leave.

Ksenia Kazintseva: During the time of your illness, you didn’t stop making art. I suppose this was your world away from what was going on and a language for feelings that couldn’t be verbalised? How did your practice change, or did it remain constant amongst the chaos?

Natalia Dudina: Prior to falling ill, I always used bright colours, the whole pallet the offered by nature could be found in the work. But during that difficult time, they became more dim, sepia and black. Eventually, I transitioned fully to black and white. Until recently, that mode of practice was a constant in my life. Right now, my art is finally starting to find colour again, although without certainty and confidence, but that’s a great sign for me.

Ksenia Kazintseva: Do you plan your work or does it come on its own? Are there specific themes that are especially interesting? Or maybe media that work best? Or is every project free to develop into anything?

Natalia Dudina: I try to use different media. While I was at the university, I painted on people, whom I masked into canvases. That was especially interesting as an experiment which I’m thinking of starting again. This particular idea is part of the project I mentioned earlier, where different media and disciplines come together. But for now that’s a secret, hopefully I can make this dream come true as well. I think it’ll be monumental for my artistic self.

Ksenia Kazintseva: What projects are most significant to you over and what can we expect going forward? Where can we support you on social media?

Natalia Dudina: I think I haven’t yet created something to be truly proud of. I’m always very critical in regards to art, so I almost never show anything to any public, other than my loved ones. But I hope to overcome this with time and share the work wider. In terms of social media, I have Instagram, where you can occasionally find works in progress. If anyone’s interested, it’s @nataliya.dudina

Ksenia Kazintseva: From previous articles I gathered that you’re interested in mindfulness and positive outlook, how do you cultivate that? Is your art in any way meant to share that?

Natalia Dudina: I didn’t find mindfulness right away since I had no idea what was going to happen to me. Nobody would tell me. Accepting constant unexpected and sometimes negative change in life was difficult. But when you realise that you have no control over the situation, you change the way you see it. And then it becomes much easier. Of course I had difficult days, everyone tends to give into that sometimes. We want to be held and loved. So, one of the most important parts of success for me are my family, my friends, who were always by my side. Without their love and support, it would’ve been very difficult.

My art focused on evoking emotion, maybe in future, when I develop to the level I’m aiming for, I can make something to share my story with. Something that can inspire people and give them certainty that everything will be okay, and like you said, a positive outlook.

Ksenia Kazintseva: It’s brilliant that you’ve been working with Gift of Life and sharing your story – I think it’s incredibly inspiring. You are definitely a role model for many. How is it going at the moment?

From left to right: Ekaterina Shergova, Natalia Diduna, Arina Gaba and Lyuba Galkina @Gift of Life

Natalia Dudina: I have really been trying to share more recently in hopes that my victory can make anything seem possible. Previously, I found it really difficult, but now I see how much it can motivate, I treat it very differently. People write about it and express their gratitude, I understand how important it is to know that nothing is final while you believe. I now share it with pleasure because I want to share the positive energy and the fact that there is life beyond the struggles. This year wasn’t easy for me as well as for many others. The last few events I was part of were in the spring-summer season, one of which was in London. It was a charity auction. The second was here in Moscow. I remember how we were, all hands on deck with the other volunteers. And then the quarantine struck. I hope we can start all of that again very soon.