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Art and Politics: How Russians Collided Them
By: Amy Li
Gradually, what decorated the pale face of white porcelain changed from pastel scenery to images of smoking chimneys, telegraph wires, and tower blocks. This was to spread the Soviet’s ideals, their vision of a utopia under communist rule.
The year 1917 was when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tzar’s rule and declared a new communist government. Soon, the Bolsheviks saw surprising potential in the newly named “State Porcelain Manufactory,” and these ideals started showing up on common-use porcelain and chinaware. The IMP Hallmark was also changed to show a cog, sickle, and hammer, symbolizing the union of a worker and a peasant, also representing communist ideas. This design would be used in many porcelain factories’ designs, under the direction of another porcelain factory owner and artist, Sergei Chekhonin.
The Bolsheviks, being firm Leninists, also imposed their thoughts on the new designs. These teapots—now with propaganda on them and better known as “agitation porcelain—were full of “calls to action.” These teapots were purposefully designed to excite and convince the working-class people, and the admired hand-painted teapots rolled off the production line. Workers now voluntarily take the central stage of a factory, “striding towards a radiant future, as seen in the works of Mikhail Adamovich and Anton Komashka,” one of the many top visionary artists that were hired to create these images. Their geometric and abstract images expressed revolution, and their creators were happy to create them for the income that saved them from the devastating lives of most Russians of that time.
By the 1920s, Joseph Stalin had come to power, developing a dictatorship and rooting out all oppositions. The teapot propaganda had also intensified, showing rather sweet and sentimental images of Stalin surrounded by adoring children and merry people—in contrast to the brutal government it was. By then, art served educational purposes—namely, to bask the communist leader in praise and shine—instead of artistic endeavor: something that was no longer encouraged at the time.
This led to the fall of Agitation Porcelain that happened in the ‘30s. The artists themselves were now under pressure due to the disappearance of independent artistry. Art that wasn’t relevant to being part of the union was seen as unnecessary, and the artists were sent to labor camps. The utopian vision the people had envisioned along the teapot propaganda also shattered with continuous summary executions, mass incarceration, and forced famine. These pieces hadn’t done anything to improve the lives of the poor. Now, their survival is appreciated by many others, who see their art as a phenomenon to celebrate instead of something to spread incorrect information to the people.