In her presentation, Sasha Huber will speak about her artistic research and engagement within the cultural-activist campaign “Demounting Louis Agassiz” (DLA) and how ethics play a role in it. The campaign advocated for the Agassizhorn mountain in the Swiss Alps to be renamed the “Rentyhorn”. The campaign was launched in Switzerland in 2007, coinciding with the bicentenary of the birth of Louis Agassiz (1807–1873). Exhibitions celebrating the great naturalist continually failed to display his life and works in their entirety. The focus was based on his merits in glaciology, ice age theory, and ichthyology. The aim of the campaign was to raise awareness of the racial theories that he had advocated right up to the US government level and which made him one of the 19th century’s most influential racists. As a DLA committee member, Sasha started her work in 2008 and has since developed an ongoing multidisciplinary and collaborative body of work around the world. This long-term endeavour is concerned with colonial traces and memory from a decolonial perspective and how those traces impact our present and future while finding ways in contributing to the healing and caring of the colonial wounds.
On the 64th day of the escalation of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, the Russian State Exhibition centre ROSIZO presented an exhibition of Soviet decorative art titled "Friendship of the Union". The exhibition's curators saw its function in showcasing the "unity of the Soviet people" and the "achievements of the Soviet industry". This exhibition is a part of the long history of normalization of the present-day colonial violence by referencing the Soviet past. Several Ukrainian researchers and art critics have shown that the current Russian colonial invasion is the consequence of the colonial mindset developed by the Russian culture, from the appropriation of multiple cultures under the universal umbrella term of "Russian culture" (Badoir, 2022; Dostliev, Dostlieva, 2022) to the colonial worldviews of Russian artists and filmmakers (Vinogradov, Korneychuk, 2022). Sasha Shestakova wants to continue the conversation on Russian culture's coloniality by engaging with how Soviet art has supported colonial violence. Her presentation will contribute to the ongoing conversation on the ways of decolonizing art history, which has so far focused on the western colonial histories and presents. In contrast, non-western colonialism, like the Soviet one, has been left outside those conversations. Looking at three case studies, this presentation will reflect upon three methods of support of colonial violence, which Soviet art has developed.
As Ukrainian researchers, Oleksandr Vinogradov and Lisa Korneychuk put it, "As the successor of the USSR, Russia inherited not only all the economic benefits of the Soviet energy export system but also took over the cultural legacy of the former republics." For that reason, the artists, who self-defined as Ukrainian, Georgian or Belarusian came to be described as "Russian". (Nazarenko, 2022) In this part of the presentation, Sasha will try to trace how the suffocating Russianness was developed in the Soviet art
Temporal production of the colonial other
Soviet art was to develop a picture of the "Friendship of the People" - a political idea of the unity of the people living in the USSR. However, the unity was based on the idea that the "national art" (the art of the people who were not Russian) has to be "national in form, socialist in content" (Hirsch 2010) which implied the deprivation of the indigenous art of any indigenous ideas and instead, making it represent the universalized visions of the progress of the soviet state. Sasha will discuss how the Moscow and St Petersburg-based infrastructures of the "indigenous art" produced the colonial temporalities of the Soviet state.
Worlding the colonial landscape
One of the critical functions of Soviet art was to normalize the process of imperial conquest by domesticating colonial violence by bringing the industrialized landscapes closer to people's homes and creating heroic visions of workers building and maintaining the colonial infrastructures. Sasha will trace how the portrayal of the industrialized workers co-created the colonial visions of the industrialized landscape both on spatial and temporal levels.
As a result of those case-studies, her talk will reflect on the ways, how art co-created the Soviet colonial project.
Badoir Daria. Why We Need a Post-Colonial Lens to Look at Ukraine and Russia. Hyperallergic.
March, 9. 2022. Available at https://hyperallergic.com/716264/why-we-need-a-post-colonial-
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Dostlieva Lia, Andrii Dostliev. Not all criticism is Russophobic: on decolonial approach to Russian
culture. Block Magazine. March, 29. 2022. Available at https://blokmagazine.com/not-all-
Accessed April, 15. 2022
Hirsch, Francine. 2010. Empire of nations: ethnographic knowledge & the making of the Soviet
Union. Cornell Univesity Press.
Nazarenko Maria. Ethical Paradoxes of Russian Utopia in European Museums. War in Ukraine.
Daily Updates. May, 2, 2022. https://sharethetruths.org/2022/05/02/ethical-paradoxes-of-
russian-utopia-in-european-museums/ Accessed June, 7. 2022
Vinogradov Oleksandr, Korneychuk Lisa. Russian Cultural Elites Want to Call This Putin 's War.
But They, Too, Bear Responsibility for the Atrocities in Ukraine. Artnet. March, 3. 2022.
Available at https://news.artnet.com/opinion/russian-cultural-elites-putins-war-2079885
Accessed April, 15. 2022