Julia Volchkova: A street artist’s journey from struggles to success


MOST children would draw cute and simple paintings when they are six years old, but not Julia.


“I was not like most children. My parents pushed me to be the best at a very young age. I was trained to work hard and I compared my work with people who are better than me as an encouragement for me to do better.


“I started my ‘professional education’ when I was six,” international artist Julia Volchkova told Buletin Mutiara at The Granite Luxury Hotel on March 8.


Julia shares her story with Buletin Mutiara at The Granite Luxury Hotel.


Julia, 35, said she has been doing art for 29 years.


“I have always wanted to be an artist and I started comparing my ‘childish’ paintings to the masterworks of Italian sculpture-cum-painter, Michelangelo.


“His artworks have left an impression on me until today. And they have encouraged me to do better each time,” she said.


Early struggles
Julia recollected the challenges she faced when she was a budding artist.


“I faced many hurdles including being a victim of gender stereotypes. They did not care about my education.


“I was asked and told ‘You are a girl, what are you doing here? Your place is in the kitchen’; or ‘Girl, this is none of your business. This is big money’; or ‘How can we make money from you?’”


“And all I asked was to be given a chance to prove myself,” Julia, who obtained her Degree in Arts and Design from Nizhnevartovsk State University in Russia in 2010, said.


Julia said after years of struggle, Malaysia invited her.


“Two of my first street arts in Malaysia were the ‘Indian Boatman’ and the ‘Indonesian Boy’ murals in Penang. I presented 15 ideas and sketches and waited for about three months to get the proper approvals from the Government. I rented a room without air-conditioning, a window or even a bed. I slept on the floor. And I did the murals for free,” she reminisced.


The mural of the ‘Indian Boatman’ in Klang Street.


Julia said she did not give up.


“At that time, I believed that it was my chance to prove myself. Life was not easy for me. That was my experience. And my life experience may not be the same as other artists who may have faced an easier life.


“For us (my family and I) we didn’t even have food and were hungry all the time. We struggled so much. But at the same time, I believe in art, and I choose to make money from art.


“When I was commissioned to do art, the money was only enough for food and stay. And it took so much of my energy away.


“I have to be strong, and I believe that one day when the time is right, I will show the world what I can do,” she said.


An eye for art
There is no hard-and-fast rule to follow when it comes to considering the perfect place to make street art, Julia said.


“Sometimes the idea comes first, and sometimes I discover the location first.


“For example, I was passing through this alley in George Town (Lorong Lumut) and I saw this old overgrown wall. So, I was thinking that it was a good place for street art. But what would be my subject?


“Then one day, I saw a woman in Little India. She was like a spiritual guru. I captured the moment she clasped her hands, and I knew that the mural of her would be a good fit for the old overgrown wall,” she recalled the making of the ‘Indian Lady’ mural in Lorong Lumut, Penang.


The ‘Indian Lady’ mural in Lorong Lumut.


Julia said she loves to take natural photos instead of ‘posing’ photos. She also loves to capture the rich diversity of the places she visits.


“I have travelled a lot and I have seen gender discrimination, racism, and the huge gap between the rich and the poor happening everywhere. People are always angry with each other, and that makes me sad.


“When I see something that I wanted to paint, I just do it. It does not matter if he or she is rich or poor. Some people or countries may not like this, but this is reality. This is how the community lives.


Other artworks created by Julia include the ‘Chinese fisherman’ and ‘Silat’ (below).


“Art does not discriminate – rich or poor, race or belief,” she said.


A special gift for Penang
Julia said she created a street art of a man playing the guitar some three years ago.


“It was an exclusive work. And my friend and I had planned to show it to the people on social media through a two-parter video.


“I saw a man, probably homeless, who was playing the guitar during my walk in George Town. I got excited and I started dancing. And later on, many people started giving him attention.


“He was so touched that he started crying. Only then, I noticed that he was without a leg.


“We did not realise that at first and my friend had already recorded a video. So, I decided to make a mural of him. The mural is about society, about how some people lived. I want my art to bring attention to these communities.


“So, we made the second part of the video of me drawing him on the wall (in Love Lane). We put so much time and effort into it, but sadly, we lost the videos!


A gift from Julia.


“We did not showcase the entire process to the people, and we just left it as that. Not many people know about this. Well, this is another of my gifts to Penang and Malaysia,” she said.


Women empowerment
Julia hoped that the push for women empowerment issues could receive more support from the community.


“Women are amazing, and we must not be afraid to thrive in any area of our profession.


“There should not be any gender stereotypes which can limit a person’s capacity to develop his or her abilities or make choices about his or her life.


“Women often have to prove themselves to be better than men. But we do not want to compete with men. We want a good relationship with men.


“Women and men can develop the society together and understand each other better,” she said.


Julia taking a photo with the Buletin Mutiara team.


Building the dream
Being a street artist is also taking a toll on Julia’s health.


“My equipment weighs a lot. The paints, rollers, sprays, and brushes are heavy. My back was also injured because of my profession.


“People know me as a street artist. It took me so long to prove myself as an experienced street artist. And now I am diversifying into contemporary art.


“I am growing my Volchkova Art brand and my new project includes fashion, paintings, prints and NFT art.


“This journey is going to be challenging. It is like starting back at the foot of the hill, and I have to climb it once more.


“I am grateful to all my supporters for being there for me along the way. Some people are nice. When I am tired, they give me the strength to push forward.


“Malaysians, in particular, are loving.


Julia giving the thumbs up to the wall mural which was created by the staff of The Granite Luxury Hotel.


“It will take time for me to build my dream. I will not give up as it took me so many years to be an experienced street artist. Just give me time,” she said.


Julia added that she is currently available for art collaborations and projects in Malaysia. For details, e-mail [email protected]



Story by Christopher Tan
Pix by Noor Siti Nabilah Noorazis and courtesy of Julia