Monday, June 25, 2012

Satisfying my Love for Soviet-era Art


All is well in the motherland.

On Saturday we took the placement exam and it was extremely difficult. Based on the results of the exam, we were divided into six groups of six and began classes. Saturday evening, we all went out to a bar and had a few drinks and hookah to relax.

The real highlight was Sunday, as I explored Vladimir's spectacular display of statues carved in the style of Soviet realism. As a lover of Soviet history, this was quite a thrill.

I slept in until 12:45, as my body is still adjusting to the different time zone, and then took the bus to the center where I walked around and ran into some other students.  We then met up with other students and their language partners at the Central Park (every Soviet style city has a Central Park) and walked around. I could not help but to take photos of the male and female statues at the entrance. They are both idealized figures dressed in the clothes of a factory worker. The man is clearly a factory worker laboring in heavy industry while the woman is employed in a more "feminine" profession of textiles. It is so interesting to observe these statues first hand in their natural environment as pictures in books simply do not adequately capture the size of these figures and their presence.

On the bus on the way home the other day, I noticed there was a Lenin square and asked our Russian friends if it was far from the Central Park. They said no and I was of course thrilled. Then I asked if there was a Stalin Park, at which point they exchanged confused looks, chuckled and said no. Disappointed, I asked why and they said because he was an oppressor. Interesting. Anyways, we visited Lenin square, which included a large and in charge statue of the great revolutionary. By this point, I was exhausted so I walked home and studied the rest of the night. I can only say that I cannot wait to explore the rest of the city's Soviet infrastructure.

Despite my enthusiasm, there is a serious point to this blog post: the Soviet Union is not ancient history. For many people, it is their daily lives -- the name of their streets, the parks where they walk their dogs, the namesake of schools and restaurants. It is so easy for us in the USA to criticize Russia's economic development, and that of the entire USSR, but people must understand that the physical space in which people conduct their everyday lives continues to be dominated by Soviet-era features. Moreover, the physical geography of urban and rural spaces that developed under Soviet rule continues to affect people's psychology and daily behavioral patterns.

This point is even more emphasized when you enter people's Soviet era apartments and see that they live with the same furniture and in the same tiny quarters that were built for efficiency during the Khrushchev era. How can American marketers expect consumers to purchase goods when they live in tiny apartments? Granted the consumer culture is changing, but life continues to be informed by the physical geography developed under Soviet rule.

Alas, for now, I leave you with that food for thought as I go do my Russian homework. Poka!

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