MOSCOW – A Moscow art gallery displayed on Wednesday a collection of propaganda artwork from Soviet Azerbaijan, including carpets and embroidery.
The exhibition Echo of the Soviet Azerbaijan. Carpet. Embroidery. Poster at the State Museum of Oriental Art in Russia’s capital focuses on how political events influenced artists over a 50-year period.
It explores how the country was transformed from a predominately Muslim society to a communist state.
Curator Maria Filatova told EFE: “The people who lived through the arrival of the revolution also lived through the previous times and were educated in Muslim traditions.
“There was a substitution of the main values in people’s minds.
“Allah was replaced by Lenin, Stalin and other leaders – new kinds of idols.”
The exhibit brings together 40 items from the 1920s to 1970s, including large rugs and tapestries in the socialist realism style, with embroidered portraits of Soviet leaders and everyday scenes made of cloth using traditional techniques.
One poster, dated 1921, reflects the social transition with a young woman removing her veil in front of other girls, while flying a red flag.
“If we look closely we see a reference to Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix: it was a very prominent image at that time,” Filatova said.
“And here in a very unusual way we have a Muslim woman whose world changes with this gesture.”
Tatiana Metaxa, of the State Museum of Oriental Art, highlighted a collage mural from the 1920s that addresses the same issue.
“It relates to how oriental women took off their veils, how they were released,” she said.
She added that the exhibition as a whole “transmits a very positive energy.”
Before the Russian revolution there was no tradition of easel painting in Azerbaijan.
Instead artists worked with embroidery, carpets and tapestries, which often served a decorative function.
From 1920, when the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic was formed, these pieces changed in function from decorations in palaces to occupying office walls and public spaces.
Filatova said the show transcends propaganda because of the passage of time, which allows visitors to appreciate the artistic quality behind the politics in the pieces.
“What in Soviet times looked like something everyday, habitual and tired, now after so much time is appreciated in a totally different way, we can discover the beauty of these works,” she added.
Islamic art, limited to the representation of human beings and animals and composed mainly of geometric and calligraphic forms, lead to a new form of expression with people occupying the center of the discourse.
One of the most striking pieces in the collection is a huge carpet titled Oil Worker that features a working family flying a red flag, with large company buildings in the background.
This socialist idyll is surrounded by a frame of geometric motifs in the traditional Azerbaijani decorative style, alternated with a filigree of pipes and oil towers.
Filatova said: “The Soviet carpets were on a palatial scale, which developed from the 16th Century and kept their composition.
“Only the subject changed: instead of calligraphy they showed scenes about the ‘heroic’ work of the people.”