To Make Art She Believed In, a Woman Needed to Live on Her Own

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To Make Art She Believed In, a Woman Needed to Live on Her Own

When Roxana Kadyrova first moved to New York at age 24 nearly a decade ago, she felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Coming from Moscow, she’d always enjoyed the thrill of being in a new place all on her own, but this time was different. Her English wasn’t very strong then, so language became another barrier to connection.

“It was such a hole of interminable, terrible loneliness. And in this city where everybody’s on top of each other, you’re just constantly living under the weight of it,” said Ms. Kadyrova, 34, an artist. As an escape, she threw herself into a relationship. She found comfort in love, and lived with her partner for the next eight years, first in the West Village and then in Greenpoint, as she pursued her acting career.

But in April 2022, they broke up. To make the work she wanted to make, Ms. Kadyrova said, she needed to be on her own and once again feel that sense of not being tied down to anyone or anything. She needed precarity.

Thrust into an apartment search for the first time in years, Ms. Kadyrova wasn’t ready for what would come. She moved her belongings into a storage unit (which she described as a “weird, eerie place”) and slept on her friend’s couch as she began her hunt.

Looking at listings on StreetEasy was unfruitful — every broker she met presented her with a “Kafkaesque” list of documents she would need in order to apply. She didn’t have references, her credit score was negative and she didn’t have regular pay stubs (her income mostly came from freelance photo shoots).

She eventually came across a sun-drenched, loft-style apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, advertised on a Facebook group that connects renters directly with landlords. It seemed like the ideal place to live in, and to use as a studio space. When Ms. Kadyrova arrived to see it in person, the landlord told her that the unit posted online was already rented, but he showed her another apartment in the same building.

The landlord used to be an artist, so he understood her situation. Ms. Kadyrova now lives in the converted factory in Bushwick.


Occupation: Ms. Kadyrova is an artist and photographer pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University. She was also formally trained as an actress in Moscow.

On Being Grounded: “I’m very attached to the furniture because when you leave your home, furniture becomes your home and it becomes this gravity,” Ms. Kadyrova said. “I think I attached myself to it when I left my partner. It was just random stuff, like things I found on the street or some stupid sales. It gave me a sense of the past, because I felt I didn’t have a past when I came to this city. If the city can’t give you gravity, maybe the objects will.”

Making Art: “I do a lot of things in addition to photography. Right now, I’m working on this kind of alter ego character that is this giant man but without a head, and I’m inside of him. It’s like a wearable sculpture,” she said.

Ms. Kadyrova began her career as an actress primarily for theater and soap operas in Moscow. While living in Morocco in the early 2010s, she had a role in the Season 3 finale of “Game of Thrones.” That role gave her the confidence to move to New York, Ms. Kadyrova said. “I was like, wait a minute, there are no limits. Why am I in this one place? I want to go further,” she said.

She continued acting when she got to New York, but after Ms. Kadyrova’s father died during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, she was overcome with grief. That’s when she discovered photography. “There was no outlet. And so I just started making these images to express all this stuff inside of me,” Ms. Kadyrova said. “And then I realized that each image can be a whole world. And you have so much power and so much control in the fact that you’re making a whole world.”

A month after she moved into her new apartment, in May 2022, she was accepted into Columbia University’s visual arts master’s program. She was ecstatic — this could help solidify her as a visual artist.

But there would be one problem: the commute from Bushwick to Morningside Heights, around West 116th Street in Manhattan.

Ms. Kadyrova has to take three different trains and it can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on the time of day and how long she has to wait between transfers, to get from her home to campus. It hasn’t been easy, but she uses the commute to do her reading for class.

This is the first apartment Ms. Kadyrova has had all to herself. She’s enjoyed being able to do whatever she wants with it, using it as a blank slate to anchor her newly found independence. Ms. Kadyrova sleeps with her mattress on the floor, a habit formed during her early 20s when she was moving from sublet to sublet, but is now an aesthetic choice.

The space is entirely open, with no walls to separate the sleeping area from the kitchen from the living area, so she hung curtains to create movable barriers between spaces. The curtains are also useful for concealing her furniture when she does photo shoots at the apartment. The income from those projects goes toward paying her rent, Ms. Kadyrova said.

Ms. Kadyrova also discovered some unexpected neighbors: a duo of sparrows who’ve made a nest in a hole next to her window. “Their names are Andres and Pedro. I like watching them,” she said.

Another quirk of the apartment is that it’s adjacent to a train station, with her windows facing the tracks.

“It’s like living inside a train station,” Ms. Kadyrova said. “You see the people, you see the tracks, you see everything that goes on. At night, there’s a lot of sad-looking people, just looking down at their phones and packaged in their parkas.”

At first, the rumble of the train passing by every few minutes took some getting used to for Ms. Kadyrova. The person that she is currently seeing is a light sleeper, so she cups his ears at night to stop the train from waking him, she said.

But now the familiar noise is like a lullaby, and she’s able to tell time with it, calling herself a “watcher of the pulse.” “I wake up in the morning because the heartbeat becomes extremely intense,” Ms. Kadyrova said. “And then I know it’s 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., when it slows down.”

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