Visualising the Russian Ideal

Sochi has long been recognised as a tourist resort with great landscape, and yet its arts and culture are often neglected by the tourist. The art collection in the Museum of the History of the City-resort of Sochi reveals much about the Russian ideal, like what defines the ideal way of living in Russian society, especially during the Soviet time.

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Picture 1: When you can master machinery, you are at the front row of Socialism builders!

Given the unique economic, cultural and institutional environment, Britain was the first country to start industrialisation in late 18 century, and the industrial revolution spread across Europe and Russia. No doubt that industrialisation drives production and economic prosperity but a sense of pessimistic sentiments about dehumanisation were widely reflected in the literary works, such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and so on.

Karl Marx’s concept of alienation explains the dehumanisation associated to the industrialisation. Workers spend their day and night to work for the factory without the ownership of their products and the realisation of their creativity. They assist the operation of the machines as if they are assimilated to be part of the machine, but not human.

And yet, the propaganda art I find at the museum portrays a different vision of industrialisation. The two workers next to the machine are not just assisting the operation of the machine, but drafting the blueprint of another new machine. They look dedicated and their creativity is realized. As the caption which is at the top of the picture suggests, “When you can master machinery, you are at the front row of Socialism builders!” In other words, under the ideal of socialism, workers are not slavery of money (or capital), but master of machines and architect of ideal socialist society.

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Picture 2: Death to Nazi beast!

The first picture not only reflects the ideal of work, but also visualizes how the ideal Russian (or Soviet) society looks like – people work together for a common goal with their talents, creativity and dedication. Other than material life, the second picture reveals the core values of the Russian – bravery, strength and sense of justice.

As the caption of the picture suggests, “Death to Nazi Beast”, the black stands for Nazi Germany and the red symbolises the socialist Soviet Union. The black was portrayed as a snake, one of the most dangerous animals with the connotation of devil (according to bible, the snake seduces Eve to commit the first sin). On the other hand, the red was in the shape of human and the warrior kills the snake with courage and strength. The picture echoes with the idea of standing for justice as one of the core values among the Russians.

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Picture 3: Learn about past and present of your city!

At the end of the museum tour, the last piece of work carries very profound implication for the citizens of Sochi or even contemporary Russia. There is a group of people, who are in modern dress, listening to the introduction to the urban city. Despite the well-developed infrastructure of the city, the caption draws an inspiring conclusion about why the museum of history is relevant to its citizens: Learn about the past and present of you city!

As a fan of art, I am convinced that imagination is at the heart of much art. It may be driven by different ideals, ranging from beauty to harmony and perfection. Knowing our past and present enables us to visualize what our ideal is, and more importantly, how our future could be.

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About Brian Yeung

Growing up in Hong Kong, pearl of the orient, I have been exposed to many cultures throughout my upbringing, from Sushi to British Top Talents and Tetris. And yet, after my stay in Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia for study and work, I realise a lot of cultural perception and presentation are just myths and stereotypes. Exploring the real accent of a particular country and its culture becomes my agenda of traveling. I value travel as a way to discover the diversity of life choices. After all, life is just the consequence of our many life choices; the one who is aware of its diversity is the luckiest person alive.

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