Anna Bitkina is one half of TOK Curators St Petersburg, Russia (Maria Veits is the other). Anya recently did a video interview for post, the Museum of Modern Art’s online resource devoted to art and the history of modernism in a global context. You can also see my response to Anya’s interview there, “Keeping the Baby While Throwing Out the Bathwater: Socially Engaged Art in Russia and the US Today.”
Click on image for enlargement.
Click on image below to see enlargment. These are actual items that the Soviet elite secretly enjoyed behind closed doors and hidden within special guarded, walled housing areas.
Details are followed by an image of the entire Panel 4.
Click on image above for enlargement.
Panel 5 is here.
These are details of Panel 3 of Darling Godsonny Stalin, which is narrated in song by “fairy godfather” Ivan the Terrible. Ivan gives his infant “godson” Stalin the blessings of Russia’s past and “advice” on how to follow the example of Ivan’s own 16th century terror against individual members of powerful clans, portrayed in the central onion-dome of the artwork. (For more about Ivan’s terror, click here.)
The left side of the triptych’s large onion-dome portrays Ivan’s Oprichniki (his private army) throwing Novgorod clan members off a bridge, then pushing anyone who surfaced back down under the ice.
Historians today all agree that Ivan the Terrible killed thousands of his own people during his terror. But – due to the skimpy historical record – historians continue to debate exactly how horrific Ivan’s methods were.
The right side of the artwork’s central onion dome portrays the members of powerful clans whose land was expropriated, and who were exiled to live on estates in Ivan’s newly conquered territories around Kazan. For more on these exiles, click here.
Stalin’s 20th century purges, remarkably similar in many ways to those of Ivan in the 16th century, peaked in 1937-8. Stalin executed virtually all of the Bolshevik leaders who had led the revolution (Lenin had died of repeated strokes in the early 1920s).
Trotsky – who Stalin viewed as his most threatening rival – was expelled from the USSR. Trotsky’s sons had both been killed at Stalin’s behest, and Trotsky knew the noose was tightening around him as well. He was living in Mexico when he was assassinated, by means of a mountaineer’s ice pick, in 1940.
Other Bolsheviks – whether careerists or dedicated, hardworking idealists – were arrested and transported on trains to slave labor camps in Siberia and other locations across the Soviet Union. Some died of starvation, thirst, or illness while being transported thousands of miles.
Some prisoners were executed and buried in mass graves.
Political prisoners were put to work building large-scale infrastructure projects: canals, mines, and cities in the far north (such as Norilsk). Soviet Russia was overwhelmingly non-industrialized, so much of this labor was done by human power with non-mechanized equipment like picks and wheelbarrows. Inadequately fed and clothed, this was a devastating experience for many who had once been leaders of the new young country.
The push for rapid industrialization required construction material. The heavily-forested far north provided an unending source of lumber. The cold, tens of degrees below zero, was unbearable for prisoners whose ragged clothing couldn’t protect them.
Roads had to be built, and lumber was plentiful, so they were used.
The rich gold and diamond fields of the USSR’s far northeast were mined by political prisoners using wheelbarrows and picks.
Prisoners were housed in freezing barracks.