Valera Cherkashin was born in 1948 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He began by using the camera to photograph himself and his developing body and personality from a young age. He has continued to study the human figure, as evidenced in a majority of his works, influenced from his former years.
In 1968, Cherkashin began studying the theory and practice of visual art in various mediums, but in 1976 he stopped and his attention turned to a dedication in the martial arts. He deeply studied the practice of meditation and work with energy under the leadership of the Vietnamese masters. Later, it would play a major part in the creation of his visual and physical artistic endeavors. By 1978 Cherkashin became a martial arts instructor, and started to include photography in his life again, with a presentation of his early works in a show with photographer Boris Mikhailov. In 1979, he returned to the visual arts and moved to Leningrad, where he worked and exhibited with the “Sterligov’s Group” - painters and artists who work and follow the traditions of the Russian avant-garde movement. A year later, Cherkashin moved to Moscow where he became more familiar with contemporary art and artists including Ilya Kabakov.
Valera met Natasha Polyakova in the Moscow Metro in 1982, they got married in 1983. Their initial collaborations focused on images of public spaces and cultural memorials that defined the Soviet era. Photographs and newspapers became the basic materials for their artistic work. and in turn now document historical moments in this period of work entitled “The End of the Epoch.” In one, now famous “happening”, the Cherkashins staged a wedding at Moscow’s “Revolutionary Square” metro station where a woman was “married” to one of the three-dimensional soldiers from the 1930s in a traditional ceremony. The Cherkashins like to express their conceptual ideas using traditional forms of visual culture. In their project “The End of the Epoch” they used the traditions of the Russian avant-garde, the form that was born at the junction of the two epochs.
In 1994, the Cherkashins left Russia for the first time and traveled to the United States by invitation from the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, NM. Following their instincts to explore the cultural differences in the USA, they returned to Russia with a new understanding of the historical changes reflected in their own culture. This led to other important series, such as “Mirage of Empires” and “Travel as Art” which led them to discover and record cultural monuments around the world. Their travels and projects have taken them to Germany, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, France, Austria, Japan, China, and Mongolia.
In 1999-2000 the Cherkashins created an underwater installation in the reflecting pool of the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC, “Good-bye, Favorite European Portraits: Hello Euro.” This installation merged ideas of art, money and national identity, to create a unique and provocative concept. The emergence of the Euro marked the beginning of the new era in the unity of European countries; however, some nostalgia as reflected in the installation was associated with the disappearance of the national currencies.
The ever-changing state of the world continually requires a search for new forms and materials to reflect it. In the late twentieth century, the Cherkashins began to work with digital technology and with the support of the New York School of Visual Arts (SVA). This collaboration inspired a whole new body of work that has taken on large proportions.
In 2005, the Cherkashins chose to develop further earlier themes of the metro series. A new project began in the subway of New York City and was soon transformed into a worldwide project. The “Global Underground” reveals the similarity and cultural diversity found in the underground transportation systems from countries and cities around the world. Video installation also became a concurrent part of the new project.