Accepted Paper:

Ukraine's new Lenins: Art and a decommunising state  

Author:

Diána Vonnák (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Analysing decommunisation policies and activists' criticisms about state-promoted monumental art in Ukraine, the paper develops a link between predictability in artistic interpretations and governance in creating and attributing political goals in monumental art.

Paper long abstract:

Lenin statues were toppled across Ukraine soon when the Maidan revolution escalated. What started out as a protest action was soon codified by the state: the Parliament adopted a 'decommunisation' package that outlawed what they defined as communist symbols and toponyms in April 2015. Meanwhile in Lviv, in Western Ukraine, overwhelming celebrations were held at the centenary of Metropolitan Sheptytskyi. As a museum was renamed, a large statue erected and dozens of exhibitions were opened honouring the Metropolitan, some activists joked that Sheptytskyi was the new Lenin. Occasionally they said the veneration was 'socialist in form, nationalist in content', turning the well-known Soviet-era slogan of Russification inside out.

I argue that decommunisation laws and activists' criticisms attribute similar powers to art objects and expect the state to utilise those. The paper reconstructs these implicit ideas that make the structural comparison possible. It analyses citizens' subject-positions as recipients of certain symbolic landscape and aesthetic canon. Toponyms and leaders' statues serve as easily legible moral and political exemplars that stand in a fairly transparent metonymic relationship with the political leadership, the state, occasionally the nation. Thanks to this legibility and transparency, the interpretive scope of the promoted monumental art is narrow enough to reduce unexpected effects. The paper develops a link between predictability in artistic interpretations and governance in creating and attributing political goals in monumental art.

Panel P065
The state of the art: the anthropology of art and the anthropology of the state