Images of Russia from liberation to oppression

Steve Eason reviews Red Star Over Russia and Not Everyone will be Taken into the Future by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, both at Tate Modern.

Lenin speaking to soldiers departing for the Polish front in Teatralnia Square, Moscow 1920

Red Star over Russia

Many of the left will be familiar with west London based author, designer, photographer David King from the books: “Red Star Over Russia”, “Russian Revolutionary Posters” and more recently “The Commissar Vanishes”. This show manages to cram an extensive sample of David’s extensive collection of posters, photographs and design work into a surprisingly small space. Lefty friends will be pleased to see the exhibition is more sympathetic to the October Revolution than this year’s exhibition at The RA.

Opening with a poster captioned: “With a united front we will overcome obstacles in building socialist industry in villages” a wall is filled with wonderful posters in all the languages in regions under soviet control. Almost before I had time to take in the posters, I turned to see a pop up book of a parachutist, designs by El Lissitzky and copies of “Russia Today” looking like a Soviet version of Picture Post.

But what I was most interested in were the photographic prints, many of these were clearly recently made copies of copies, but “Preparing for May Day in the railway worker’s club 1929” looked original, authentic and unaltered. It was a shock to see up close, how brutally crude the cropping, hand retouching and colouring of the Stalinist era really was. Photographers were literally made into illustrations – examples were the world-famous picture of Lenin speaking to soldiers departing for the Polish front in Teatralnia Square, Moscow – later cropped to remove Trotsky and Kamenev and of course “The Commissar vanishes”.

A central theme was Stalinism and the table with portraits of those purged and disappeared was at the centre of the show – don’t forget to open the drawers for more detailed books.

Not Everyone will be Taken into the Future

An entirely separate show of some of the installation work and paintings by Ukrainians Ilya and Emilia Kabakov is well worth visiting next. An installation of a tube train takes its title “Not Everyone will be taken into the Future” from an essay written in 1983 and asks “what will happen to these works tomorrow”… “Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album)” is a personal installation by Ilya that seems almost endless. Not surprisingly, Lenin and Stalin feature in some of the collages: Lenin in “The Appearance of Collage No.10” and Stalin in “The Four Paintings about Sun No. 4”, both by Ilya and Emilia.

Clearly to me there was some dark humour in the Kabakov’s work feeling like an antidote to the cynicism of the previous exhibition. Suggest seeing both on the same ticket, especially if you or a friend has Tate Modern membership.

Civil war poster by Dmitrii Moore calling on Muslims to join the Red cavalry
Preparing for May Day in the railway worker’s club 1929
The Appearance of Collage no.10 Ilya Kabakov
The Four paintings About The Sun no.4, Ilya Kabakov
Title piece “Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future” by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov 2001
Nina Vatolina: Fascism – The most evil enemy of women. 1941
Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) installation by Ilya Kabakov 1990


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