Indian artists on ninety years of Russian revolution

This is a video about painting in India.

By Suneet Chopra, in People’s Democracy weekly in India:

Artistes Observe Bolshevik Revolution Anniversary

THE 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was observed at the Visual Art Gallery in Delhi, with an exhibition of the works by some 26 artistes, including Arpana Caur, Neeraj Goswami, Komala Vardan, Shamshad Husain, Subroto and Nupur Kundu, Nand Kishore, Avijit Roy, Dattatraya Apte, Anoop and Ritu Kamath, Asurvedh, Biplabi Samaddar, Dharmendra Rathore, Laxman Aelay, Laxma Goud, Jayant Gajera, T. Vaikundam, L.N. Rana, N S Rana, Prabir Bepari, Prokash Karmakar, Rohit Sharma, Santosh Verma, Vinod Sharma and Vinodvrat.

The reason I had in mind when curating the exhibition was that the impact of the Russian Revolution and the setting up of the Soviet state was something without which the independence of India and other colonies was unthinkable. For, empires that came into being before the Soviet state simply replaced one oppressor state with another. The Arabs fought the Turks for their independence, but Lebanon and Syria were parcelled out to France and Iraq and Jordan to Britain. Palestine, put under British ‘protection’, suffered a fate worse than death. Even after the World War II, the USA demanded Korea as a “mandated territory” while the Korean people had defeated Japanese colonialism on their own!

China Mieville’s new book provides a gripping account of the Russian Revolution but it has some telling omissions, says NICK WRIGHT.

Sir Richard Eyre, the distinguished director who led the [UK] National Theatre for 10 years, has warned that ‘apartheid’ in the arts is denying millions of people access to high culture: here.

Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test opened at the Art Institute of Chicago this past weekend and runs through January 15. The exhibition focuses on art, design and culture generally that emerged from the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, from 1917 to approximately 1935. A wide range of issues is raised by the artwork, the curation and the historical presentation: here.

MARJORIE MAYO recommends an excellent collection of literary responses to the October Revolution in Russia.

11 thoughts on “Indian artists on ninety years of Russian revolution

  1. Pingback: Karl Marx and economic crisis today, from TIME magazine | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Saturday, 19 November 2016

    A Margy Kinmonth Film
    Director: Margy Kinmonth
    Created with the support of Alisher Usmanov, Founder of the Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation
    Contributors: Museum Directors:
    Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky & Zelfira Tregulova
    Film Director: Andrei Konchalovsky

    2017 WILL mark the centenary of one of the most important moments in the history of the 20th Century – the Russian Revolution. In the lead-up to the Centenary of the Russian Revolution, a film that explores the art coming out of Revolutionary Russia Revolution: New Art for a New World was screened in UK cinemas for one night only on 10th November.

    This feature length documentary explores the world of the Russian Avant-Garde art movement through this turbulent time in history. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Margy Kinmonth, the movie is a bold and exciting feature documentary. Drawing on the collections of major Russian institutions, contributions from contemporary artists, curators, and performers and personal testimony from the descendants of those involved, the film brings the artists of the Russian Avant-Garde to life.

    It tells the stories of artists like Chagall, Kandinsky, Malevich and others – pioneers who flourished in response to the challenge of building a New Art for a New World, only to be broken by implacable authority after 15 short years.

    Stalin’s rise to power marked the close of this momentous period, consigning the Avant Garde to obscurity. Yet the Russian Avant-Garde continues to exert a lasting influence over art movements up to the present day.

    Revolution: New Art for a New World confirms this, exploring the fascination that these colourful paintings, inventive sculptures and propaganda posters retain over the modern consciousness 100 years on.

    The documentary was filmed entirely on location in Moscow, St. Petersburg and London, with access to The State Tretyakov Gallery, The State Russian Museum, The State Hermitage Museum and in co-operation with The Royal Academy of Arts, London.

    It features paintings previously banned and unseen for decades, and masterpieces which rarely leave Russia. Contributors include Museum Directors Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky and Zelfira Tregulova and film director Andrei Konchalovsky.

    The film also features Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Hollander, James Fleet, Eleanor Tomlinson and Daisy Bevan who bring to life some of the most prominent voices of this time. Director Margy Kinmonth says: ‘I was inspired, as an artist, to discover how many of the descendants of Russian Avant-Garde artists are themselves working as artists today. Access to their intensely moving stories brings to life this extraordinary period of artistic innovation, which continues to exert such a powerful legacy a hundred years on.’

    The film shows the enthusiastic response of the group of young artists and their devotion to the Bolshevik-led revolution. The opening titles proclaim: ‘The message was workers of the world unite … everyone is going to have equal rights, including the artists.’ Painter Popova says, ‘We are breaking with the old because we cannot accept their hypotheses.’

    The film proper opens with historic footage of the Women’s Day March of February 17 which was brutally dispersed by Tsarist troops, killing hundreds. Photographer Bulla captured the scene of the massacre from his apartment window. The massacre set light to the February revolution which deposed the Tsar and brought in the Provisional government. Later footage of the storming of the Winter Palace from Eisenstein’s film October is shown.

    One of those interviewed says: ‘Before 1917 the artistic revolution was already underway but the political revolution let it flourish.’ Here the film considers Malevich and his abstract Suprematism movement. It talks of his emphasis on black and poster colour kinetic marks out of a white background. There is a debate about his controversial Black Square.

    Chagall’s flying couple in Vitebsk: Over the Town is considered with commentary that it reflects on a freedom brought on by the revolution. The film notes the conflict between the Russian art academy’s European classicist teaching and the new art which is full of colour and often ignored perspective. One commentator calls Kandinsky ‘the father of abstract art’ who ‘would change the course of painting forever’.

    The work of inventive theatre director Meyerhold is praised, with modern actors demonstrating the revolutionary director’s ‘biomechanics’ exercises for actors. Outstanding works are found in museum archives, stored away. The film recounts how the Bolsheviks set up a Visual Arts Department.

    Rodchenko, we are informed, worked as a multifaceted artist in many disciplines, photography, graphic art and design. And Vertov was a pioneering documentary film maker. A new school of photomontage was encouraged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

    Women artists flourished. Among them, Stepanova who was married to Rodchenko.
    As well as posters, Lenin’s agitprop train steamed across Russia in a literacy drive. One famous poster proclaims BOOKS. Artists, workers and peasants alike suffered huge privation during the imperialist wars of intervention and the counter-revolution of the White Guards financed by the west.

    Trotsky built the Red Army to successfully defend the new workers state but it came at a cost. The film does not talk about Trotsky, save to say Stalin entered the editing room of October and made Eisenstein cut Trotsky out when he was filmed standing next to Lenin during a cheering rally. This is when the film deals with Stalin’s dead hand on art and artists after Lenin’s death, with his insistence on Social Realism and the ever increasing censorship.

    Then came the Stalin purges of 1936-38 that continued till the 1950s. Many were sent to the Gulag, many were tortured and executed on false charges. Avant-garde artists were declared ‘enemies of the state’. One surviving relative tells how ‘we stayed awake at night; if we heard boots on the ground, we knew they were coming.’

    Some fled like Chagall and others survived including Malevich who subverted realism with stylised larger than life portraits. However, the director insists, the Russian avant-garde has a ‘lasting legacy which has transformed art’. The closing credits name the many artists and their fates. Look out of this inspiring must-see documentary. Hopefully there will be more screenings and it will reach a wider audience.


  3. Thursday 18th May 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    Mike Quille: Culture Matters

    HOW do the ruling classes manipulate art and culture to secure political consent for oppression and exploitation? Two exhibitions on the 1917 revolution in Russia go some way towards providing an answer.

    Most historians accept that the February and October revolutions in that year were both clear improvements on the tsarist autocracy that preceded them.

    And most cultural historians also recognise the explosion of creativity and widespread democratisation of culture which followed the October revolution.

    Art and cultural activities suddenly became exciting, accessible and relevant to ordinary Russians.

    But these are uncomfortable facts for our current rulers, who must crush any hopes for political or cultural progress if they are to stay on top.

    There are two ways they can do this. One is to construct a biased and misleading narrative which ignores historical evidence and downplays artists’ support for the revolution. That was on view in the recent exhibition at the Royal Academy, an openly one-sided and distorted presentation of its politics and art.

    The second is to create a monumental fudge which obscures the real historical and cultural achievements of 1917, through a kind of chaotic eclecticism.

    This is the strategy followed by the British Library in its current exhibition on the Russian Revolution, embodied in the mistaken and banal commentary offered by one of its curators in the Morning Star last Saturday.

    “Today, people are not so much concerned about the faults of capitalist society but are trying to find their way through the new challenges of the global world,” she asserted.

    How on Earth anyone can write this in the middle of an election campaign in which the Labour Party is quite clearly trying to address the faults of a capitalist society which concern us all is beyond belief.

    She provides an individualistic focus on the “personal stories” of those involved and the “individual interpretations” of visitors to the exhibition, rather than promoting a broader, historically based understanding of Russian history.

    This is a cop-out because curatorial practice, including the type of contextual and supporting material supplied, is bound to influence visitors’ perceptions.

    It is also disingenuous, because the curators do have a message. They believe that the exhibition “can convey a simple idea that violence can only create more violence in response.” This is sloppy thinking.

    History is full of instances where individuals and classes have violently seized control of commonly held resources and have been unwilling to give them up peacefully.

    Oppressive rulers have had to be challenged, defeated and restrained by force as well as by peaceful argument, in order that most people can have a fair share of the Earth’s resources.

    Of course, peaceful persuasion is best. But what alternative is there to force if that doesn’t work to end exploitation? Would slaves, peasants and serfs have ever been freed without their violent, illegal rebellions?

    The “violence breeds violence” message conceals a defeatist political agenda. When the law itself is nothing more than a codification of unjust and oppressive social and economic relationships, it has to be challenged and changed by every means at our disposal.

    Coincidentally — or perhaps not — both exhibitions have been sponsored by the Blavatnik Foundation, the beneficiary of Britain’s secondrichest man Leonard Blavatnik.

    He made a huge fortune after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying legalised robbery by private individuals and corporations of the wealth built up by the Russian people since 1917.

    So money stolen from the Russian people is used to fund cultural exhibitions which distort the truth about Russian history. That is how dominant classes manipulate art and culture to secure consent for exploitation and oppression.

    Have there ever been more obvious examples of the increasing corruption of our cultural institutions by corporate capital, masquerading as philanthropic or charitable foundations?

    A key demand of any progressive arts and culture policy must now be the complete abolition of private sponsorship of our common culture and heritage.

    Mike Quille is co-editor of the website Culture Matters,


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  5. Monday 11th September 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    MEIRIAN JUMP and JIM GLEDHILL preview a forthcoming event to commemorate one of the greatest political dramas of the modern world

    THE Russian Revolution of 1917 changed the course of human history.

    From the Tsar’s fall in February to the overthrow of the provisional government in October, ordinary Russians took centre stage in one of the great political dramas of the modern world.

    This autumn, the Russian Revolution Centenary Committee marks these momentous events 100 years on.

    The Centenary Committee was established by the Marx Memorial Library and the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies and brings together a host of labour movement, heritage and cultural organisations.

    The committee is supported by a number of national trade unions and regional bodies of the TUC.

    Our international conference “Russian Revolution Centenary — Marking 100 years since the October Revolution” will be taking place at Congress House in London on Saturday November 4.

    Speakers from across Britain and around the world will gather to discuss the political, historical and cultural legacy of 1917.

    The Marx Memorial Library’s exhibition The Russian Revolution 1917- 1922 will be on show for attendees.

    We will also be screening a specially commissioned documentary film on the October Revolution narrated by the actor Maxine Peake.

    Britain in 2017 — crippled by austerity, with soaring levels of poverty and inequality — is not a world apart from Russia in the early 20th century.

    Our conference will ask: what can we learn from the Revolution today?

    Scholars David Lane and Sarah Badcock will provide an introduction to the history and politics of the Revolution alongside Andrew Murray from Unite.

    Later Badcock will join biographer Rachel Holmes to explore the central role played by women in the Revolution. Labour historian Mary Davis, Richard Leonard MSP, Adrian Weir of Unite and Tosh McDonald of Aslef will take up the Revolution’s impact in Britain, Indian historian Vijay Prashad will consider the Revolution’s influence on the Third World with Cuba’s ambassador to Britain, Teresita de Jesus Vicente Sotolongo.

    Our other international guest speakers Aleida Guevara March from Cuba, Brinda Karat from India, Slava Tetekin from Russia and Johanna Scheringer-Wright from Germany will discuss the Revolution’s relevance in today’s world.

    The events of 1917 had a transformative effect on culture. Revolutionary film and art will be the focus of sessions led by film and media scholar Mike Wayne and art historian Christine Lindey.

    In the run-up to the conference watch out for Spark — a festival of revolutionary film at two of London’s renowned independent cinemas, the Rio and the Phoenix. The festival takes its name from the Russian revolutionary newspaper Iskra (Spark).

    Every Sunday for eight weeks from September 24 we will be screening classics of early Soviet cinema by directors Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov and Esfir Shub.

    Screenings include Eisenstein’s dramatisation of the 1905 Black Sea mutiny Battleship Potemkin — now considered one of the greatest films of all time — and Vertov’s experimental documentary about everyday life in Soviet city, Man With a Movie Camera.

    Warren Beatty’s Reds will also be shown as a unique and daring Hollywood film about the Revolution, released at the height of the cold war.

    Film’s potential as a tool to explain and win support for the Revolution was recognised early on by young communist film-makers.

    They transformed film into a powerful medium of communication, applying Marxist theory to cinema in innovative ways.

    A century later, this festival celebrates the lasting international impact of Soviet cinema. It has influenced the theory and practice of film ever since.

    By bringing together leading academics, politicians and trade unionists at Congress House and revisiting the phenomenal cultural legacy of Soviet film, the Centenary Committee hopes that the Russian Revolution will be understood as more than just a thing of the past.

    In 2017 over a million Britons are using foodbanks and working zero-hours contracts.

    Radical political solutions to society’s problems are being talked about again. The Russian Revolution is a theme for our times.

    For the full conference and film festival programmes and tickets (£10/£8 concessions) visit @1917Centenary or


  6. Friday, 13 October 2017

    The Art of Revolution 1917-2017
    Undercroft Gallery
    112-134 Market Place
    Norwich NR2
    Until October 14

    HURRY to catch the ‘Art of Revolution’ exhibition taking place in Norwich, dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Russian Revolution. It explores its significance and cultural legacy. The venue is the Undercroft, St Peters St, Norwich – an excellent underground site at the top of Norwich market. The exhibition runs up to 14th October.

    The curator of the exhibition is local artist, Gennadiy Ivanov. Interviewed by News Line, he said: ‘Twenty nine artists are exhibiting. I decided to concentrate on the Russian Revolution. Others are talking about revolutions in other spheres such as the industrial revolution, design, movies, art. I invited other artists to take part and asked them to add some red.

    ‘I was born in Russia from a military family and lived in far East, then near Moscow, moving to near the Volga river and finally to Belarus. I have been in Britain 15 years and have a small studio on Upper Giles St. It is important to commemorate the Russian Revolution. It had a very important historical impact. If you don’t know your history, you don’t know your future.

    ‘We need to shake the marshes; to wake people up and get them to think about what is going on. It’s not just enough to think about food and joy, to sit on the sofa eating chips and being entertained, but to think about the world and what they want to change.’

    Ivanov recalls the mutiny of the sailors on the Battleship Potemkin: ‘The Russian people became very political during the revolution. And they are becoming very political now. Everything is going in a circle. Russia and China have huge resources. It was Madeleine Albright who suggested that all Russian resources don’t belong to them but belong to the world and we should have it.

    ‘Russia is ringed round with military hardware pointing in their direction. I hope this exhibition inspires visitors to think about what they want to change, and they’re looking to the future.’

    The exhibition is exciting. Gennadiy is a talented naturalist painter who enjoys using thick oil paint in bright colours. His paintings are powerful and vibrant. He loves the human body and many of his pictures are of people or portraits. Paintings show the faces of Lenin, Che Guevara, Castro, Frieda Kahlo, John Lennon, Mayakovsky and Yurio Gagarin, looking out of his spacecraft, ‘a window on the universe’.

    There is a huge painting of a locomotive, a metaphor for revolution, driving straight towards you, with a young woman sitting on the right of the buffer and an image of a young boy riding forward on a horse to the left. On the funnel of the engine is written 1917 and on the front of the train is written 2017.

    There are paintings of red sailors fighting, joking, giving the thumbs up, or dancing. One painting focuses on a sailor’s rugged hands. Another painting shows a beaming young woman, in front of a flowing red banner, and the words, ‘Every cook can govern.’

    Leon Trotsky is referenced in a large canvas showing an enthusiastic young woman calling out to the world, to transmit the huge reverberations of the revolution globally. There is a statue of a young woman by another artist, which touches on the psychological changes that take place in the people during a revolution, from humiliation to pride, from fear to courage. The downsides of capitalism are alluded to in the portrayal of Coca-Cola cans.

    The constant anti-socialist reports of the bourgeois media are exposed in a series of articles stuck on a wall, with comments exposing their hostile intent. These include ‘the anti-Soviet message of the Bond film From Russia with love’. There is a moving depiction of the Industrial Revolution, showing a starving child. There are very many other constructions and paintings and styles.

    Deanna Tyson, a Cambridge artist chose as her topic revolutions of the sixties from the cultural revolution and the ideas of Michael Foot. She made a large decorative Revolutionary Rug inspired by two recent exhibitions, one at the V&A museum, ‘You say you want a revolution?’

    Records and Rebels 1966-1970, and the Revolution: Russian Art 1917 to 1932 at the Royal Academy. The latter exhibited Nikolai Denkov’s ‘kerchief’ with the portrait of Lenin in the centre and Trotsky’s corner portrait cut out.

    Her rug showed Che Guevara in the middle, and Angela Davis, Mohammed Ali and Judy Chicago at three corners and a hole where Bob Dylan’s face was cut out. She said he was the villain of the piece for not turning up to receive his Nobel prize in person. She stresses the importance of other media apart from formal oil paintings. For her, textiles are important.

    She has created a statue of a woman in a beautifully made white gown and burka, from Syria. She says pretty alluring things can attract, but when you look into them they are much darker.
    Round the bottom of the dress are listed the sinister weapons being used in the wars in the Middle East.

    Another work draws attention to the shoes that were thrown at the invaders in the Iraq war, a sign of opposition from the people. This is a stimulating, and unusual exhibition commemorating the Russian Revolution of 1917 and other revolutionary changes in society. Not to be missed.


  7. Pingback: Poet Attila the Stockbroker on 1917 Russian revolution | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Saturday 4th October 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    After the revolution in Russia, artists embraced a new social and political agenda, says CHRISTINE LINDEY

    ALTHOUGH pre-revolutionary Russia’s avant garde debated the social role of art, it had only an ineffectual presence on the fringes of a tsarist state with rigid arts policies. The Bolshevik revolution changed this.

    In 1917 Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar for Enlightenment, immediately introduced pluralist state policies so that avant-garde artists now joined more traditional ones in positions of power in education and patronage.

    Now, not only were aesthetic issues publicly aired, they were no longer pie in the sky.

    This resulted in a heady brew of conflicting ideas. As artists redefined the social role of art to serve the fledgling Soviet state, so they sought a new aesthetic.

    A key issue was how art should relate to the past. Before 1917 the Suprematists, led by Kasimir Malevich, virulently rejected it, partly on aesthetic grounds. They would liberate art and creativity from the past shackles of subject and styles to create a totally pure art and Malevich’s now famous Black Square of 1913 still remains one of art’s most radical statements.

    After the revolution some artists rejected past academic art, partly on political grounds, to disassociate their art from that of the oppressive tsarist regime. Members of the proletarian culture movement Proletkult, including Natan Altman and Vladimir Mayakovsky, held that the function of art was to agitate and propagate socialism.

    Rather than creating individualist and permanent collectible works, their works and actions would be collectivist, ephemeral and topical.

    From 1919 their ROSTA posters were hand-made overnight, often hurriedly, to cover shop windows with work on a single topical theme, giving the public up-to-date information, explaining government policies or ridiculing its enemies.

    “We are breaking with the past because we cannot accept its hypotheses,” constructivist Liubov Popova explained. “We ourselves are creating our own hypotheses anew and only upon them, as in our inventions, can we build our new life and new world view.”

    By taking art into production, the Constructivists would become self-effacing constructors helping to build the new egalitarian society alongside other workers.

    Refuting the tsarist concept of the artist as a male individualist “genius” creator of unique statues and paintings, they would design for mass production to improve daily life: “Down with ART as a bright PATCH on the mediocre life of the propertied man… Work in the midst of everyone, for everyone, and with everyone,” declared Aleksandr Rodchenko.

    Building the new world equated modernity. Constructivist posters, typography, textiles, ceramics and clothing were simple and practical but they also signified a total break with the tsarist past.

    Modernity meant welcoming the rapid technological change brought about by new materials, processes and technologies such as the telephone, film, flying machines and electrification.

    Rather than a stone or bronze statue, Vladimir Tatlin’s unbuilt project A Monument to the Third International was to consist of abstract geometric forms made of sheet glass in a metal frame.

    This modernist, electrified monument would soar over Petrograd but would also function as a communications tower. International avant gardes also embraced modernity but Soviet artists were fired by the prospect of making real socio-political change.

    But the large Association of Artists for Revolutionary Russia (AKhRR) defended more traditional means and realist art on political and aesthetic grounds. Citing Lenin’s reminder that proletarian culture should learn from, rather than reject, past art they turned to socially committed art such as Gustave Courbet’s and Ilya Repin’s as prototypes.

    They declared: “We will depict the present day: the life of the Red Army, the workers, the peasants, the revolutionaries and the heroes of labour.

    “We will provide a true picture of events and not abstract concoctions discrediting our revolution.”

    Some, such as Isaak Brodsky used precise realist styles but others, including Alexander Deineka and Boris Grigoriev, assimilated cubist and expressionist elements into moderately modernist but legible styles.

    Their realist depictions of everyday life and heroic events of the revolution would inspire current and future Soviet citizens. The priority was to transform “revolutionary reality into realist forms comprehensible to the broad mass of workers.”

    Soviet modernists were to influence over a century of worldwide art and design. Yet, in their day, relatively few constructivist designs went into production, due to the difficult economic situation and conservative public taste.

    In prioritising subject matter over formal innovation, AKhRR artists were more responsive to the needs and tastes of the public. That the West has ignored or marginalised them until recently stems partly from its criteria of prioritising innovation and artists’ intentions over their social responsibility.

    This caused it to ignore its own predominantly traditional early 20th-century art, when its avant garde was more marginalised than in the Bolshevik state.

    Abridged from an article in Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies Digest, September 2017. The society promotes knowledge of the culture, language and history of Russia and the former Soviet Union, details:,-educate,-organise#.Wf16YTuDMdU


  9. Pingback: Indian Progressive Artists’ Group, New York exhibition | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: How nazis persecuted Anne Frank, other girls | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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