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Katja Gendikova: Belka Bellt

Work / Illustration

From sex stories to dogs in space, Katja Gendikova’s illustrations tell the fantastical tales of real life

Describing her work as “playful, whimsical and a bit wobbly”, Berlin-based illustrator Katja Gendikova creates distinctive characters whose lanky limbs flow with movement. Switching between digital and acrylic paint, heavy black outlines and no outlines at all, Katja’s work is full of charm because of these unruly bodies. “I love odd looks – beautiful is regular, which means for me it is not of so much interest,” Katja tells It’s Nice That. “I also love bodies and body movements and mistrust faces a bit – in the end, a face is not much more than five holes.”

From illustrations for the newspaper Taz centred around a daily hashtag to her many self-published books, Katja enjoys communicating the fantastic in the everyday. Her illustration series From Ah to Oh tells people’s unexpected sex stories, whereas her commission by Lesen und Schreiben, called Tomatoes in the Bathtub brings to life the surreal tales written in one of the German organisation’s creative writing workshops.

Her book Belka Bellt, which tells the true story of Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka, straddles the line between real-life wonders and the happenings of Katja’s imagination in a particularly fun way. Aboard the Korabi-Sputnik 2, the two dogs were the first creatures (alongside a grey rabbit, 42 mice, two rats and some plants and fungi) to venture into the earth’s orbit and come back alive. Brought up in a Russian family, Katja knew the story of Belka and Strelka well but was surprised that her German peers were less familiar with the canine cosmic pioneers.

Given the story’s bizarreness, Katja knew it would be a great fit with her style. “I read about a strange incident that occurred at 110km, which was recorded by the observers back on Earth,” explains Katja. “Previously very calm, Belka started barking at something and tried to tear herself from her seatbelt, as if to attack something coming from the outside of their capsule. No one ever explained this mysterious situation, so I thought, let’s do it!” Featuring modern-day Berlin, black holes, time-travelling and The Beatles, the story is only slightly more surreal than the equivalent of a pet shop venturing through space.

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Katja Gendikova: Belka Bellt

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Katja Gendikova: Belka Bellt

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Katja Gendikova: Belka Bellt

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Katja Gendikova: Belka Bellt

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Katja Gendikova: From Ah to Oh

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Katja Gendikova: Kate Bush

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Katja Gendikova: Candide by Voltaire in the Diner

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Katja Gendikova: Tomatoes in the Bathtub

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Katja Gendikova: Tomatoes in the Bathtub

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Katja Gendikova: Tomatoes in the Bathtub

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Katja Gendikova: Untitles