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The Nineteenth Annual
Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies
Image as Power: Iconography, Guerilla Art and Secularism in Modernity
Soviet-Turkish Relations in the Interwar Period: Historiographical Trends and Opportunities
Taylor Zajicek, REECAS, UW
Unorthodox Icons: Icons and Iconography in Early Soviet Propaganda
Cyrus Rodgers, Slavic Department, UW
Guerrilla Art in Modern Russia's Protest Movements
Suzanne Skaar, REECAS, UW
In the early 20th century, the collapse of two of history’s largest empires brought remarkable political and social changes to Eurasia and its many cultures. Neither the Ottoman nor Tsarist Russian empires survived the pressures surrounding World War I, and their dissolutions redrew political lines from North Africa to the Pacific. In Turkey and Russia, the former imperial centers, life changed drastically under new political regimes that rewrote notions of nationalism, religion, language, and ethnicity. These reforms were spearheaded by three larger than life personalities—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. Occupying the intersection of Europe and Asia, and Orthodoxy and Islam, both countries have faced similar challenges and continue to play dynamic roles in their regions today. Although the Turkish and Soviet experiences and their outcomes were markedly different, there is fertile ground for comparative and transnational research.
As both countries broke with their imperial pasts, the role of religious institutions and state participation in faith were redefined. In 1924, on the pretext of foreign intervention, Turkish nationalists abolished the Caliphate. Kemalist reforms sidelined the clergy, expurgated ecclesiastical terms from the language, restricted veiled women from state institutions, and nationalized aspects of religious practice, mandating that the call to prayer be announced in Turkish. Driven by their commitment to the Communist project, the Bolsheviks viewed the “withering away” of religion as an inevitable outcome of the proletarian revolution. However, this belief did not prevent them from pursuing an active course toward secularization—undermining religious courts, prohibiting public displays of faith, replacing religious festivals with secular equivalents, and encouraging atheism through party doctrine and propaganda.
In particular, this paper will seek to address how secularization changed the physical and temporal landscapes of Turkey and the Soviet Union, and discuss the historiographical literature surrounding these issues. Through the reassignment of mosques and church buildings to secular purposes, both regimes redefined religious space and sought to undermine religion’s physical primacy in urban areas. Secondly, secularization in Turkey and the Soviet Union changed the temporal landscape—Turkey’s shift from the Islamic to the Georgian calendar, and the Bolsheviks’ creation of the “Soviet eternal calendar” disrupted religious holidays and altered the Sabbath. Alternatives were offered in the form of secular, state-sponsored celebrations with images of Atatürk, Lenin, and Stalin at their center. Although these policies were far from static and subject to regional variations, a comparison of Turkey and the early Soviet Union has important implications for the study of secularization and modernity on the periphery of the “Western” world.
To read the full paper click here.
When the Bolsheviks seized power the Russian Orthodox Church did not die. However, starting as early as the summer of 1918, the Soviet government conceived a series of measures to usher the Church towards its demise. Just as icons had served so effectively as a means to develop and reinforce the belief system of the Orthodox Church, so too, were they used in a campaign against the Church. Low literacy rates in Russia, the role of the Orthodox Church as a unifying cultural institution, and the significance of the Church’s longstanding art tradition contributed to the development of a common visual language in Russia. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Orthodox Church’s most sacred and recognizable images were profaned in posters and publications dedicated to promoting statewide atheism such as Bezbozhnik u stanka. Conversely, Soviet artists understood the sway these images held over the collective Russian consciousness and co-opted elements from these same sacred images and synthesized them with the emerging political propaganda. In this paper I focus on the use Orthodox iconography in two currents of Soviet propaganda: the satirical and the referential/imitative. I discuss how Orthodox icons were used in the Soviet attack on religion as well as the influence icons had on the development of visual language in Soviet propaganda that promoted State objectives and attempted to inculcate citizens with the burgeoning state’s new social doctrine. I begin by analyzing the work of two of the most well-known and productive early Soviet visual propagandists Dmitri Stakhievich Moor (Orlov, 1883-1946) and Aleksandr Petrovich Apsit (1880-1944). These artists were more than casually acquainted with the schema and symbols of the holy genre. I show how both Moor and Apsit made use of familiar icon programs and imagery to promote Soviet aims, and discuss examples of their work that depicts Orthodox icons satirically to devalue the old regime and to dissuade citizens from persisting in their religious convictions. This section is followed by an examination of Iakov Moiseievich Guminer’s (1896-1942) photo-montage tribute to the Revolution, “Great October: Active Participants and Organizations” and the works Gustav Klutsis (1895 – 1938) that reference Orthodox icon programs and transform that familiar visual schema into propaganda that suited the Party’s needs in a campaign to promote and legitimize Party ideology and historical narrative. This paper will demonstrate how Soviet artists aimed to damage the Orthodox Church with its own imagery, and clearly illustrate the influence of Orthodox iconography on Soviet visual language, underlining how the style, symbols, and visual structure of Orthodox icons were modified in Soviet graphic art to create a schema that would espouse Bolshevik ideas.
Guerrilla Art in Modern Russia's Protest Movements
Guerrilla art has been deployed as a mechanism for social change in Russia's latest protests. The beauty of the guerrilla art movement in Russia is not only that it has created and reappropriated symbols for the mass populace to use - - guerrilla artists themselves have become unifying symbols for the opposition to Putin's government.
The temporary nature of graffiti and other forms of guerrilla art is a large part of its appeal. While artists who find success in galleries may have the opportunity to make a direct impact on viewers long after their own generation has passed, street artists may be considered lucky if their work is up for a week. Fortunately, the power of street art is amplified by the digital revolution: a simple cell phone camera shot of a sticker on a pole in Moscow has the power to take the artist's work across the globe through Facebook, email, blogs, or newspaper wires. And because the medium has no predefined lifespan, artists need to take risks to make others pay attention. The risks that leave artists open to punishment by police are the same risks necessary to grab the attention of a public inundated by and immune to advertisements.
Guerrilla art is a useful tool for populations who feel as though they have no practical control over their own environments. It is a way to communicate with others who may or may not share the same views. It is a way to rebel against a force larger than oneself, whether that force is the government, society, corporations, or even just the local community. Performance art, posters, and stencils are just a few types of extensions of this rebellion. In governments where the populace does not have direct access or even the mirage of direct access to authorities for the sake of contributing to decisions, guerrilla art may be the most useful tactic, in that it provides anonymity (protection from prosecution or persecution) and a vehicle for communicating with the masses messages that the mainstream media may not be capable of or willing to project. It's a medium that those who do not have the power, time, or money necessary to enter politics can utilize to their advantage. For example, the traditional roles that women are expected to fulfill as wives and mothers make it more difficult (albeit not impossible) to participate in society in a way that will make lasting change if they act in accordance with traditional societal mechanisms. Groups like FEMEN and Pussy Riot have been particularly powerful because they challenge the traditional perceptions of what revolutionaries look like and how they act. I hope to present a quick glimpse into the art utilized by Putin's opposition and its ramifications, both for the government and the artists.
To read the full paper click here.
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