Socialist Worker

Posters and photos reignite the visions of Russia’s revolt in Red Star Over Russia

A new design exhibition in London gives a graphic illustration of the impact of revolution and counter-revolution in Russia after 1917, writes Nadia Sayed

Issue No. 2580

The exhibition is from the collection of late artist David King

The exhibition is from the collection of late artist David King


On 25 October 1917 the seizure of Petrograd marked the beginning of the October Revolution.

100 years later the Red Star Over Russia exhibition at the Tate Modern brings the culture unleashed by the revolution to London.

Compiled from the collection of the late graphic designer David King, the exhibition shows how art was shaped throughout this period.

The viewer is taken on a journey. It begins with photographs of soldiers and workers next to newly erected statues of Marx and Engels following Lenin’s decree to destroy and replace Tsarist monuments.

Through photographs of the Agitprop trains and 1930s magazine USSR in Construction, you realise the deep and lasting effect of October on art and culture.

Collectively

Artists such as Aleksandr Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and others from the new avant-garde wave worked collectively, whether with other artists or with friends and partners.

Murals on Agitprop trains and postcards such as those by Gustav Klutsis for the Moscow All-Union Olympaid show how art was made more accessible.

A massive theme throughout the exhibition was the effect of Stalin’s counter-revolutionary terror upon art and culture.

We see it in the line-up of mugshots that places the poet Osip Mandelstam beside Stalin’s political rivals like Zinoviev and Kamanev.

We see it in the doctored photographs and posters from which “enemies of the people” have been removed.

Many of the artists featured in the exhibition, such as Klutsis and Lissitzky, were victims of Stalin’s purges.

What’s reflected well in the collection is how liberating October was. Women take centre stage in much of the art work. The first room, Art Onto the Streets, displays posters written in languages besides Russian and English, including Arabic.

Another example is the poster by Viktor Koretsky, entitled Our Army is the Army of Liberation of the Working People. It depicts two men, a soldier and a worker, kissing.

One of the most powerful pieces is the large, painted fabric banner in the first room, which bears the slogan With a United Front We Will Overcome Obstacles in Building a Socialist Industry in Villages.

The viewer is confronted with the image of a Muslim and Russian worker shaking hands, a message that is still relevant and needed today.

While the exhibition isn’t cheap, the centenary of the Russian Revolution only happens once. This exhibition does well at showing the aspirations, vision and ideals of those who made the revolution.

Red Star Over Russia—a revolution in visual culture | Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG
Until 18 February | Tickets £13.30/£12.30/£11 | tate.org.uk

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