Conservative Murals: Paintings for the Russian Nation on the Wall
Petra Rethmann (McMaster University)
Paper short abstract:
In the last few years in the center of Moscow a number of nineteenth-century paintings have been reproduced on the walls of houses. Together they narrate a story of Russian sovereignty and national strength. I trace how these reproductions mediate a desire for Russian nationness and nativism.
Paper long abstract:
From 2011 - 2017, along Tverskaya Street and Kamergerskiy Pereulok in the center of Moscow, approximately twenty nineteenth-century paintings emerged on the walls of buildings and houses. Including reproductions of Ilya Repin's Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, Vasily Vereshchagin's At the Doors of a Mosque, and Leon Bakst's Portrait of Serge Diaghilev, with his Nanny, the paintings differed in subject matter and style, but together they narrated a story of Russian sovereignty and national strength (derzhava). In building on discussions with Russian curators and artists, in this talk I am interested in tracing how the on-the-wall public reproductions of Russian nineteenth-century paintings mediated a desire for nation-ness and at times undemocratic values. Perhaps deliberately vague and challenging to define, in Russia conservatism indexes traditional, nativist, and supposedly non-Western values, including obshchina (togetherness, the lack of individualism) and sobornost' (spiritual community). As a political and governmental buzzword, conservatism particularly emerged after the spectacular 2011/12 political protests had failed to prevent Vladimir Putin from taking up his third presidential term. In this talk I am asking how and why art mediates conservative and nativist values, and how and why Russian governmental art institutions support curatorial practices associated with such values. I also ask about the relationship between democracy and art, especially if democracy is understood not as integral to good government, but rather as an irritating form of governance.
Art and nativism [Anthropology and the Arts Network]