Russia Rising: Votes for Freedom: 30 Artists and Designers Challenge the 2011 and 2012 Russian Elections. School of Visual Arts (SVA) presents “Russia Rising: Votes for Freedom,” an exhibition responding to recent political turmoil in Russia through the language of the poster. The original posters were created in support of the popular Russian movement for democracy that emerged at the third-term election of President Vladimir Putin. Co-curated by design historian and MFA Design Department Co-chair Steven Heller and Abbeville Press Art Director Misha Beletsky.

“SVA has a long tradition of supporting freedom of speech and voting rights through its exhibition program. It is important for Russia to have elections, but it is also necessary for Americans to understand the political context in which they are held. This exhibition asks the question ‘Does my vote count?,’ which opens doors that are too often shut,” says exhibition co-curator Steven Heller.

“Although some of the most effective political agitation of the 20th century took place in Russia, and perhaps precisely because of it, the Russian public is weary of revolutions and revolutionary rhetoric,” says exhibition co-curator Misha Beletsky. “This leaves the would-be revolutionaries of today in a precarious position of opposition to the regime with no clear means of dissent.”

Designers who responded to the call for entries for “Russia Rising” faced a similar challenge. Today’s Russia doesn’t fit into any visual clichés like the red banner or hammer and sickle. Pre-1917 czarist symbols such as the two-headed eagle and the tricolor, once viewed as “radical,” have come to symbolize the current regime. The often depicted Russian bear is now a mascot of Putin’s United Russia party.

Designer Woody Pirtle’s poster features brass knuckles that look very similar to a bear’s claw. Oil leaks out of a tricolor faceless Russian nesting doll on a poster created by Dimon Zakharov. SVA faculty member Viktor Koen contributes a poster reminiscent of former U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul’s ReLOVEution graphic; the word ReVOTElution is superimposed over a hand placing a paper into a ballet box.

A bear kicks a caricature of Russian President Vladimir Putin out on Robert Grossman’s poster, which also includes the words “Takeout Putin.” The Bukheyevs’ Election Circus has the imperial two-headed eagle, juggling black and white balls in a circle to symbolize the contested elections. Eugeny Dobrovinsky’s Russian Chronology starts with “2010 ten” and continues, “2011 eleven,” “2012 twelve,” “2013 puteen,” “2014 puteen,” into infinity.

“It has become very difficult to say ‘Russia’ visually without becoming embroiled in complicated political issues. The artists in the exhibition have navigated these murky contextual waters with great skill,” says Beletsky. “They have demonstrated something that the unresolved political situation in Russia reminds us of daily: that the diversity of human expression is ultimately stronger than the oppressive uniformity.”

Participating artists include R.O. Blechman, The Bukheyevs (S. Bulkin & E. Mikheyeva), Savas Cekic, Cybersect, Maxim Derevyankin, Eugeny Dobrovinsky, Lex Drewinski, Stasys Eidrigevicius, Alexander Faldin, Kevin Finn, Emily Firebaugh, Robert Grossman, Hilppa Hyrkäs, Allison Hefely, Viktor Koen, Boris Kulikov, Yossi Lemel, Alain Le Quernec, Uwe Loesch, Alexandria Lopresti, Alexey Lysogorov, Ilya Pereverzentsev, Kari Piippo, Woody Pirtle, Joe Scorsone & Alice Drueding, Eugeniusz Skorwider, Lanny Sommese, Alexander Umyarov, Derek Vander Griend and Dimon Zakharov.

“Russia Rising: Votes for Freedom” is organized in conjunction with the Golden Bee Global Biennale in Moscow and Serge Serov, Biennale president. The exhibition’s graphic identity was created by Maria Permyakova-Romanova.

Reception: Wednesday, September 12, 6-8pm

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