Looking Up At The Tsars: The Astounding Work Of Anne Bobroff-Hajal

Written by   October, 2018

An in-depth article.

Mooney Gallery (Castle Gallery, College of New Rochelle):

Russia Through the Looking Glass

Terror, Humanity, and Geo-Politics Through History

With Russia again erupting onto the world stage via often-puzzling actions, a new art exhibit, Russia Through the Looking Glass, immerses us in a world whose logic at first appears the opposite of our own. Artist Anne Bobroff-Hajal’s whimsical, icon-like triptychs – some of them massive, up to 6 x 9 feet – include hundreds of tiny, colorful portraits of Russians from the time of Ivan the Terrible to the end of the 20th century, from the lowliest peasants through the vastly wealthy nobility to the Tsars and Stalin. And these portraits aren’t stiff or impassive. They portray each individual competing for power within a complex clan system, periodically terrorized back into line by the ultimate boss, whether Tsar or Stalin, protecting the populace against Mongols, slave-raiders, or Nazis.

Comical yet deadly serious, Bobroff-Hajal’s art helps us understand even the most horrifying historical events by making them both fun and truthful. Characters “sing” in rhyming lyrics composed by Bobroff-Hajal. Stalin appears as an infant in swaddling, his mustache already full-grown. Catherine the Great has magnificent wings of gold so heavy she must be hoisted aloft by a team of mightily-struggling serfs.

Bobroff-Hajal is a painter and mixed-media artist highly influenced by animation techniques. She also has a Ph. D. in Russian History, and lived in Russia for a year before the fall of Communism. Each of the panels in her triptychs take a year or more to research (both historically and visually), to plan and paint. Her work helps us understand the inner logic and continuity of Russia’s long, autocratic history.

Following critical acclaim for Bobroff-Hajal’s 7-foot-wide triptych “Dress It Up In Resplendent Clothes,” the Board of the College of New Rochelle’s art galleries selected her from among all Westchester Biennial 2014 artists for this solo show. The exhibit is a rare opportunity to view all of the artist’s large Playground of the Autocrats triptychs together in one place here in Westchester. Russia Through the Looking Glass is designed to generate conversation and illuminate history in a provocative and enjoyable way. Bring your family and friends, as this exhibit will amaze, educate, and stir you and them to think – perhaps even to argue – about how history has shaped the events we are living today.

Russia Through the Looking Glass runs from Oct. 25th to Nov. 16. The opening reception will be Sunday, Oct 26, from 4-6, and will feature delicious Russian snacks as well as a chance to speak with the artist. The Mooney Gallery is located on the ground floor of the Helen & Peter Mooney Art & Educational Technology Center on the college’s campus at 29 Castle Place, New Rochelle, NY 10805. The Gallery is open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, phone (914) 654-5423 or e-mail


Reviews of 2014 Westchester Biennial, Castle Gallery, College of New Rochelle:

“Anne Bobroff-Hajal’s Russian-themed triptych, Dress It Up in Resplendent Clothes, holds court in Gallery 2. A large, colorful and busy painting with collaged elements, it represents the best of what art can do. It is both visually arresting and intellectually challenging; it delights the eye and elicits admiration. Russian symbols from the Czars, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet era are intertwined. The political themes are really interesting, especially now, given Russia’s current role as Protector/Aggressor in Crimea and Ukraine. Bobroff states on her website, ‘I believe the past is godparent to the present’ and we only need to watch the news to see that she is absolutely right.”

 – Margo Clark-Junkins, “Art Scene in Bloom,” Rye Record review of Westchester Biennial 2014

“Anne Bobroff-Hajal’s Dress it up in Resplendent clothes is the exclamation point of the show. It’s both a political satire and history lesson wrapped up in mixed media.

“The artist’s use of ornate embellishments designed to signify the style of Catherine The Great highlights the origin of perspective. It is this perspective that allows the viewer to see the connection of complicated Russian history that began with her and ended with Stalin.”

The Bronx Art Exchange review of Westchester Biennial 2014