Is this art to die for?

Grim murals in Dostoevskaya station could make people wary about riding the subway

Valery Sharifulin/ITAR-TASS/CP

Can grim murals on a subway platform prompt suicide? This is the question Russian psychologists have been grappling with since this summer’s opening of the Dostoevskaya station in Moscow.

Commuters who pass through the underground stop get a glimpse of a grim-faced Fyodor Dostoevsky, and grey-scale mosaics depicting scenes from the 19th-century writer’s works. There’s the brooding portrayal of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, as he’s about to implant an axe into a woman’s head. Another shows a character with a gun to his temple from Dostoevsky’s novel The Demons. These images, say health professionals, could make people wary about riding the subway, and encourage violent behaviour. “The deliberate dramatism will create a certain negative atmosphere,” remarked one prominent Russian psychologist, “and attract people with an unnatural psyche.”

But the artist behind the murals doesn’t agree. Ivan Nikolayev, who was hired to decorate the much-delayed Dostoevskaya station 20 years ago, says he’s been asked repeatedly whether the scene with Raskolnikov and the axe was necessary. “If someone handed you Dostoevsky’s own manuscript, would you just go cross out this scene from the novel?” he asked, adding: “What did you want? Scenes of dancing?”