Given that members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were recently sentenced to two years in prison for their performance of an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral, SVA’s upcoming “Russia Rising: Votes for Freedom” exhibition— which responds to recent political turmoil in Russia through the language of the poster—couldn’t be more timely. The original posters were created in support of the popular Russian movement for democracy that emerged at the third-term election of President Vladimir Putin. Co-curated by design historian and MFA Design Department Co-chair Steven Heller and Abbeville Press Art Director Misha Beletsky, “Russia Rising” (subtitled “30 Artists and Designers Challenge the 2011 and 2012 Russian Elections”) will be on view at SVA’s Westside Gallery, 141 West 21 Street, New York City, from September 4 – 22.
“SVA has a long tradition of supporting freedom of speech and voting rights through its exhibition program,” says exhibition co-curator Steven Heller. “It is important for Russia to have elections, but it is also necessary for Americans to understand the political context in which they are held. This exhibition asks the question ‘Does my vote count?,’ which opens doors that are too often shut.”
“Although some of the most effective political agitation of the 20th century took place in Russia, and perhaps precisely because of it, the Russian public is weary of revolutions and revolutionary rhetoric,” says exhibition co-curator Misha Beletsky. “This leaves the would-be revolutionaries of today in a precarious position of opposition to the regime with no clear means of dissent.”
Designers who responded to the call for entries for “Russia Rising” faced a similar challenge. Today’s Russia doesn’t fit into any visual clichés like the red banner or hammer and sickle. Pre-1917 czarist symbols such as the two-headed eagle and the tricolor, once viewed as “radical,” have come to symbolize the current regime. The often depicted Russian bear is now a mascot of Putin’s United Russia party.
“It has become very difficult to say ‘Russia’ visually without becoming embroiled in complicated political issues. The artists in the exhibition have navigated these murky contextual waters with great skill,” says Beletsky. “They have demonstrated something that the unresolved political situation in Russia reminds us of daily: that the diversity of human expression is ultimately stronger than the oppressive uniformity.”
For more info and the full list of participating artists, visit SVA.edu.
Images, from top to bottom: The Bukheyevs, Election Circus; Visual Arts Press; Robert Grossman, Takeout Putin.