Exhibit runs September 4 – October 18, 2018. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:00AM – 5:00PM excluding university holidays.
Artist Anne Bobroff-Hajal has a PhD in Russian History and is the author of the scholarly volume Working Women in Russia Under the Hunger Tsars. Her extensively researched polyptychs are satirical commentaries on how Russia's ruling elites have historically taken advantage of their unique geographic situation to amass and maintain power. She means for her art to honor and serve the dispossessed and forgotten.
Bobroff-Hajal's work draws formally on the similarities among icons, political cartoons, animation storyboards, and graphic novels, all of which tell stories in pictures. Her tales are told across centuries to the Infant Stalin by three tsarist godparents: Ivan IV, Catherine the Great, and Peter the Great. Each polyptych is “narrated” via the artist's original lyrics set to the tune of Kalinka, in a series of tableaux which viewers “read” through numbered frames or simply from left to right. Bobroff-Hajal's goal is to beguile viewers to identify and engage with forces that have shaped power structures in Russia and other parts of the world.
Intellectually, Bobroff-Hajal's work brings together disparate fields' analyses of Russia: historians of ideology who have observed Russian elites' centuries-old use of the threat of invasion to unify the country behind an autocratic leader; global history scholars like Perry Anderson who wrote that “Eastern Absolutism...was the price of [Russians'] survival in a civilization of unremitting territorial warfare;” geographers who have described Russia as “the least defensible country on earth” because of its vast flatland steppes devoid of natural barriers to invasion. Putin today is only the most recent Russian ruler to manipulate threat of invasion across the plains to support extreme appropriation of wealth and power from the populace for the benefit of ruling elites.
Bobroff-Hajal's 110-page fully illustrated catalogue is now published online, with extensive historical analysis and info about her artistic process. Please click here to access the catalogue. For best results view using the "full screen" function.
Historian J. Arch Getty wrote,
Anne Bobroff-Hajal's art combines deep historical knowledge with humor and artistic talent that speaks to audiences ranging from school children to professors. I cannot imagine a more distinctive and iconoclastic combination. In her formidable painting of Ivan IV, his stern face conveys a series of meanings, and the postures of his underlings depict patronage and clan relationships that reflect the latest historical research on the 16th century. Her paintings of Stalin with Bolshevik patronage clans show a similar skill and informed artistry that also capture recent research. Her Catherine the Great, who 'flies' by means of stilt-walking serfs hoisting her and her heavy decorative gold wings, does more, and more vividly than many books on Catherine. The whimsical style of her work allows it (like icons of old) to tell stories on many levels, ranging from the nearly comic to an accomplished complexity. Her work is truly unique and deserves a wide audience.
From the artist:
I’ve been asked how I can bear to spend so much time painting brutality and horrors. I do it because art—with its color, beauty, satire, story, whimsy—is the tool we humans have to lift us from despair as we investigate the sources of atrocities so as to combat them in the future.
How do elites—not only in Russia, but the world over—amass the power to do such terrible things to less powerful people? What are the resources rulers use to accumulate power? How do they exploit those resources to maintain their omnipotence? How have some some regions of the world been able to wield dominion over other regions?
Russian absolutism, as historian Perry Anderson observed, not only began earlier than in Europe, it “outlived all its contemporaries, to become the only Absolutist State in the continent to survive intact into the 20th century.” The 1917 collapse of the Tsarist autocracy was followed a decade after the Bolshevik Revolution by the rising Joseph Stalin’s “Communist” autocracy. That in turn collapsed in the 1990s, to be followed a decade later by the rise of a new autocrat-in-the-making, Vladimir Putin. Why do distinctive historic cycles recur in each region of the globe, and how can they be broken?
I believe that each land’s distinct geography presents singular opportunities for elites to build and sustain power. In particular, Russia is by far the planet’s largest flat landscape. Geographers have called Russia the least defensible terrain on earth because of its lack of natural barriers against hugely powerful neighbors. My art explores the web of interconnections between Russia’s unique geography—both natural and human—and its rulers, clans, and laboring classes. I paint the social system Russia’s geography gives rise to, the elites it empowers, and hundreds of tiny portraits of individual people straining to achieve their goals within that system.
It may seem obsessional to paint so many three-inch-high portraits in such a time-intensive way, often using a magnifying glass to paint each face and detail. But I create art to honor and hopefully serve the dispossessed and forgotten. My goal is for my art to delight viewers to identify forces that have shaped varying power structures in different parts of the world, in order to illuminate how they might create change within their own.
Please join the East Central European Center and the Harriman Institute for a talk with Dr. Stephan Sander-Faes, István Deák Visiting Professor at the Harriman Institute.
This talk features the more or less criminal deeds of individuals in the Austrian monarchy around the turn of the nineteenth century. Continuity and change, broadly understood, as well as an increasingly activist central government were the hallmarks of the Josephi(ni)st state during an era characterized by the French Revolution (1789), the ensuing Napoleonic wars, the end of the Holy Roman Empire (1806), and the incipient industrialization.
Dr. Sander-Faes will investigate a largely overlooked source type: wanted notes from Lower Austria during these momentuous decades. In looking at the communication, circulation, and modification of the relevant media, he will also touch upon the construction of ‘the criminal’, what he or she looked like, and how state officials described these offenders. Analysis of these (written) wanted notes further enables us to consider three additional aspects: the diffusion of body knowledge among a mostly illiterate peasantry, which highlights how judicial-bureaucratic sources may be used to analyze shifts in media use, and, finally, allows for insights into the material culture of the rural underclasses.
Please join us for a talk with Alexander Lukin about his new book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement (Polity, April 2018).
This event is supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is part of our Russian Studies & Policy event series.
With many predicting the end of U.S. hegemony, Russia and China's growing cooperation in a number of key strategic areas looks set to have a major impact on global power dynamics. But what lies behind this Sino-Russian rapprochement? Is it simply the result of deteriorated Russo-US and Sino-US relations or does it date back to a more fundamental alignment of interests after the Cold War?
In this book, by leading expert on Sino-Russian relations, Alexander Lukin attempts to answer these questions by offering a deeply-informed and nuanced assessment ofRussia and China's ever-closer ties. Tracing the evolution of this partnership from the1990s to the present day, he shows how economic and geopolitical interests drove thetwo counties together in spite of political and cultural differences. Key areas ofcooperation and possible conflict are explored from bilateral trade and investment to immigration and security. Ultimately, Lukin argues that China and Russia's informal alliance is part of a growing system of cooperation in the non-Western world, which has also seen the emergence of a new political community: Greater Eurasia. Combining accessibility with expert sensitivity to the complexities of the subject, Lukin's vision of the new China-Russia rapprochement will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding this evolving partnership and the way in which it is altering the contemporary geopolitical landscape.
Alexander Lukin is Head of the Global Economy & International Affairs Department at the National Research University Higher School of Economics.
Please join the Ukrainian Studies Program at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University for a presentation by Volodymyr Kulyk, Head Research Fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
When the Ukrainian parliament adopted a new law on education in September 2017, this development was welcomed by civil society and Ukraine’s Western partners as an important part of the post-Euromaidan reform agenda. However, the new law provoked an outcry from neighboring states, particularly Hungary, as it drastically reduced the use of minority languages in the education process. Notwithstanding their warning that its implementation would jeopardize not only their country’s bilateral relations with Ukraine but also Ukraine’s European integration, President Poroshenko enacted the law, thus exacerbating the controversy. To understand why Kyiv supported a minority-insensitive law despite its predictable foreign policy repercussions, one should look at the domestic political context. Similarly, it is the domestic contexts of the respective kin-states that can shed light on their harsh response to Ukraine’s assertive move.
Volodymyr Kulyk is a Head Research Fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He has also taught at Columbia, Stanford and Yale Universities, Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Ukrainian Catholic University as well as having research fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Woodrow Wilson Center, University College London, University of Alberta and other Western scholarly institutions. His research fields include the politics of language, memory and identity in contemporary Ukraine, language ideologies and media discourse, on which he has widely published in Ukrainian and Western journals and collected volumes. Dr. Kulyk is the author of three books, the latest being Dyskurs ukraїnskykh medii: identychnosti, ideolohiї, vladni stosunky (The Ukrainian Media Discourse: Identities, Ideologies, Power Relations; Kyiv: Krytyka, 2010).
Please join us for a talk with Jennifer Wilson.
In 1802, Nikolai Karamzin founded the journal Messenger of Europe with the intention that it would inform the Russian public of current political developments in the West, including as they related to the European colonies. From its inaugural issue through 1804, about two dozen stories explicitly concerning the Haitian Revolution appeared in its pages, and as an editor, Karamzin was sympathetic to the cause. In this talk, Jennifer Wilson will explore Karamzin’s investments in a successful slave rebellion on the island of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) with a focus on how the Haitian Revolution provided a canvas onto which he could impose his own preoccupations with matters of self-determination and the right of Russia (and Haiti) to form governments that departed from the norms and practices of the West. Special attention will be paid to how Karamzin utilized the then-emerging ideas of climate theory and race science to make the case that the African slaves in Haiti, like Slavs, were physiologically different from Western Europeans and thus, he claimed, required different forms of governance. Wilson will also discuss the presence of Polish soldiers on Haiti and how this complicated Karamzin’s coverage of the fighting given his fears of Polish independence.
Jennifer Wilson received her PhD in Russian Literature from Princeton University and from 2015-2018 was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Her essays on Russian literary culture and politics have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and the The Atlantic.
Image: A still from Haiti/Halka (exhibition for the Polish Pavillion at the 2015 Venice Biennale)
Please join the Harriman Institute and the NYU Center for European and Mediterranean Studies for a meeting of the Gender and Transformation: Women in Europe Workshop with Betul Balkan Eksi, Robert G. James Scholar Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University and Elizabeth A. Wood, Professor, Department of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This event is supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It is part of our Russian Studies & Policy series.
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