Digging Up Mousebones

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Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko, a Russian born photographer and visual artist based in the Pittsburgh area, uses her knowledge of fashion and drag to produce images that capture the glamour within the eccentric and horrifying. Vereschenko’s photographs provide a glimpse into the life of the artist as well as the drag community in which she has been immersed. To better understand the meaning behind these uncanny and mystifying images, we had an in depth conversation with the artist herself.

Tell us about your background and how the city of Pittsburgh influences your work.

I’m originally from Ryazan’, Russia. I grew up there until the age of 12, then came to the United States with my Mom who dreamt of building a better life for us here. We lived in a couple of areas in Detroit and eventually moved to the suburbs close to the city.

Self Portrait by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko
Self Portrait by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko

I came to Pittsburgh for school when I was 19. After seeing that AIP wasn’t right for me, I quit after 2 years. Now I still visit Detroit as much as possible, but something has kept me in Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s the student loan debt, maybe lack of funds and the lack of direction, or maybe I somehow psychically knew that I would eventually find my place in this city.

Something in my brain clicked and I just knew I had to find a way to get involved with these beautiful, sparkly, dirty beings somehow.

Then fast forward to 2 and a half years ago when I went to my first drag show. Drag, trans and the gay community always had a place in my heart. Being someone who has been an outcast for the majority of my life, I really felt for their struggle to be themselves and to be accepted. I always had very similar struggles myself. I knew that I was different, but I wasn’t sure how.

That first drag show featuring Alaska Thunderf*ck, Willam Belli, Detox and Vicky Vox blew my mind. Something in my brain clicked and I just knew I had to find a way to get involved with these beautiful, sparkly, dirty beings somehow.

Several months later, I was finally able to purchase my first semi professional camera with my tax refund to document and make prints of my paintings (which has been my primary love). I didn’t quite fit into the arts community and I didn’t understand why. So having that new toy to play with, I had no idea what to do with it yet. So I thought taking it to a drag show will be a perfect opportunity to try it out. At the show I asked another photographer to show me a couple of things, and much to my disbelief, the pictures turned out great (for a first timer).

Painting by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko
Painting by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko

I’ve had lots of experience modeling and working on Photoshop, that I knew what to do with the photos when I got home. And literally overnight I fell into the drag community and became a drag photographer. Now, 2 years later, I’m trying to learn and improve on that skill everyday and slowly upgrade my equipment so I can do bigger and better things.

How would you describe your work?

I’m not sure how to describe my photography, I try to find the real person in the eyes when I shoot. I like adding some kind of emotion to my pictures. Someone once described my work as pretty with a little bit of a bitch. I’m not sure, but that may be me projecting myself onto the subject I’m photographing.

Who and what has inspired your photographic style?

Particular people I find inspiring are Ryan Burke in NYC, Mathu Andersen in LA and club kids and drag queens from all over the world and their DIY approach to things. And, of course, my lovely drag queen friends here in Pittsburgh, particularly Veruca La’Piranha who has taught me a lot about makeup and clothes and wigs and how to make fabulous things out of garbage. She’s the best pal to go thrifting with for sure. Because of her I started doing elaborate makeups and self portraits which really help me get out of my head after my day job and give me another outlet to express myself through.

Are there any photographers or artists that you draw inspiration from?

All of the people I find inspiring have showed me what it’s like to be a real woman, how not to be afraid to be myself, how to accept my flaws and strengths and all of those people happen to be men. I feel like the luckiest person alive to have found my calling and all of the ways to express myself. I now have not only painting, but makeup and photography as well.

Veruca La'Piranha by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko
Veruca La’Piranha by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko

Are you currently working on any projects or collaborations?

Currently I’m working on my first fashion shoot with the local designer Diana Misetic. I was really blessed to have met her at my art show and we began forming ideas on how I can be a creative help for her label. We are just starting our work together, but I am super excited to get more involved in the fashion industry and express myself and see how this helps my art grow and what projects are awaiting me in the near future.

As an artist, what do you hope to achieve with your work?

I always want to continue growing and becoming better at all of my art forms. I’m hoping to get my foot in the fashion industry, and use what I know about high fashion and art and fuse all of that with androgyny and my drag photography. But I also do enjoy the documentarian side of photographing shows and behind the scenes stuff, like what happens in the dressing rooms. I’m hoping to give back to the drag community for helping me become the person that I am.

Bebe Beretta by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko
Bebe Beretta by Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko

I also want to open people’s eyes to the art that is drag. [Show them] that it isn’t only what you see on RuPaul’s Drag Race. That’s only a tiny fraction of the art form. There are so many types of drag queens, I really feel like I live in a fairy tale that’s full of Queens and Kings and fairies and witches, and mermaids and fishes and otters and bears and leather daddies and bearded ladies and all kinds of magic creatures. They have never judged me and have always supported me when I show up in my crazy looks. I feel like [I] don’t get the same treatment anywhere else.

I always feel better after attending a drag show. They’re mostly hilarious exaggerations of women and pop culture, and things tend to not be very serious at drag shows other than the behind the scenes drama. But I guess there wouldn’t be drag queens without drama. For me drag has been a positive and healing experience and I recommend it to anyone who needs some light hearted entertainment. And Pittsburgh drag in particular is growing and expanding all the time with shows in the city almost every day of the week.

To see more of Masha Mousebones Vereshchenko’s work check out the gallery below. Visit her website for a more extensive collection and her Etsy for photography and artwork currently available for purchase.