Author: Raino Isto

a photograph of a Black soldier in wartime Berlin

Building Up and Breaking Down Walls of Our Own: An Interview with Paul M. Farber

This interview unpacks the making of Paul M. Farber’s book A Wall of Our Own: An American History of the Berlin Wall (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). More than just a Cold War travelogue shadowing the times spent by legendary American cultural figures Leonard Freed, Angela Davis, Shinkichi Tajiri, and Audre Lorde in Berlin during the second half of the twentieth century, the book interweaves history with critical visual analyses to draw comparisons and contrasts across national borders. The Berlin Wall itself becomes a protagonist in the book, which is a thoughtful meditation on physical, often monumental, manifestations of … Read more

cover of exhibition catalogue

Beyond the 3 Ts: Promote, Tolerate, Ban – Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary

Cristina Cuevas-Wolf and Isotta Poggi, eds., Promote, Tolerate, Ban: Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary (Getty Publications, 2018), 160 PP. 

The curators of the Getty Research Institute and The Wende Museum of the Cold War undertook a difficult task with an exhibition in Los Angeles, entitled Promote, Tolerate, Ban – Art and Culture in Cold War Hungary,(Eastern European regimes operating before 1989 were not, in fact, communist states. In my view, even the ‘state socialist’ adjective is inappropriate for the Kádár regime, especially since the mid-1960s, but the now increasingly common term ‘state capitalism’ is not yet Read more

The film poster with the title in large letters at the top and a photograph of the filmmaker as a child at the center.

Becoming Black

Ines Johnson-Spain (dir.), Becoming Black (2019), Film.

Becoming Black(Becoming Black, by independent filmmaker Ines Johnson-Spain, is a Kobalt Documentary production that premiered in 2019 at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Since then, it has been screened at several international film festivals and received the 2020 Best Diaspora Documentary from the Africa Movie Academy.) opens with a picturesque view of waves crashing on the Togolese shore. Off-camera, the first-person narrator recalls being a ten-year-old girl in an East Berlin apartment with her mother, who recounts a story to her as if she is divulging a secret. It … Read more

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Color–blind and Color–coded Racism: Angela Davis, the New Left in Hungary, and “Acting Images”

Race is a social construct based on images of “otherness.” In Eastern Europe, where self–identification relies on “whiteness”(See also: “Historicizing ‘Whiteness’ in Eastern Europe and Russia,” Socialism Goes Global, last modified June 26, 2010, http://socialismgoesglobal.exeter.ac.uk/conferences/.) as a construct, systemic racism along color–codes has been, and still is, experienced as irrelevant, “far away,” and without any actual real impact on society.(Ian Lew, Nikolay Zakharov, “Race and Racism in Eastern Europe: Becoming White, Becoming Western,” in Relating Worlds of Racism. Dehumanisation, Belonging, and the Normativity of European Whiteness, eds. Philomena Essed, Karen Farquharson, Kathryn Pillay, Elisa Joy White, Read more

We Do Not Know Ourselves: How Global South Filmmakers Exposed Racism in Czechoslovakia

The documentary film Black and White (1968) begins with a scene in which a small child marvels at the skin color of an adult African. The child asks: “Are you really so dirty?”, and concludes with the words, “You’re black. What’s your name?” The little girl is curious and in her ignorance she symbolizes the protagonist of the film – Czechoslovak society confronted with the racialized other. The voiceover in the film speaks on behalf of Czechoslovak society. However, the creator of this documentary is not a Czechoslovak citizen, but Krishna Viswanath. Born in Calcutta, Viswanath studied at university in … Read more

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Five Contemporary Polish Artists Engaging with Race

This essay showcases the different strategies of representing race and ethnicity deployed by five Polish artists in relatively recent solo shows. The theme of race was central to some of the shows, while it appeared more marginal in others. Representing race turned out to be complicated by the viewing context, including the location and the medium in which the work was exhibited.

There are two major ways that ethnicity and race play a part in Polish history and in present-day Poland. One is the historically strong Jewish presence, which ended with the Shoah. Additionally, after the war ended, mass emigration … Read more

The Wayland Rudd Collection and the Network of Mutuality: An Interview with Yevgeniy Fiks

In this interview, artist Yevgeniy Fiks speaks with art historian and curator Ksenia Nouril about The Wayland Rudd Collection, the artist’s ongoing project that brings together a wide range of Soviet images depicting Africans and African Americans. Established as a collaborative project that incorporates contemporary interventions, the Rudd Collection nuances what is typically projected as a monolithic Soviet culture while also enhancing our understanding of race in and beyond contemporary Russian society.

Ksenia Nouril: What is The Wayland Rudd Collection?

Yevgeniy Fiks: The Wayland Rudd Collection is a participatory, conceptual art project at the center of which is … Read more

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Special Issue: Art and Race in Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction to the Special Issue

This special issue gathers scholars, artists, and critics who examine the relationship between art and race in a region not commonly associated with that issue – Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the investigations presented here are recovery projects, efforts to pay close attention to artistic narratives and works that received little attention in their own time or have been forgotten with the passage of time. These authors ask how contemporary artists have understood racial categories, and how race makes itself visible in artworks and films. The impetus of our special issue was provided by, … Read more

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Central and Eastern European Art: 30 Years After the Fall

Ana Janevski and Roxana Marcoci with Ksenia Nouril (eds.), Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe: A Critical Anthology (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018), 408 pp.

“To give a definition of Eastern Europe is a difficult or almost impossible task” (p. 279). This observation, offered by artist Sanja Iveković in an interview featured within Art and Theory of Post-1989 Central and Eastern Europe, neatly captures the challenge that the volume sets for itself. Elsewhere within this new addition to the Museum of Modern Art’s series of critical anthologies, curator Raluca Voinea evokes the difficulties … Read more

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Special Issue: Creating for the State: The Role of Artists’ Unions in Central and Eastern Europe

Introduction to the Special Issue

In recent decades, the history and criticism of Western contemporary art has turned its attention to art institutions and their curatorial and administrative practices. This attention derives, in part, from the rise of institutional critique as an almost ubiquitous artistic strategy, and from the corollary realization that institutions—including museums, galleries, heritage associations, membership organizations, nomadic biennials, funding entities, arts and culture nonprofits—play a key role in establishing the social spheres in which diverse audiences encounter contemporary art. If we consider Eastern Europe during the Cold War era, there is one type of institution that played … Read more

The Role of the Romanian Artists’ Union in the Production of State Socialist Art

During the establishment of the new socialist regime in Romania, “in order for visual artists to be it was felt necessary to create a new form of organization, a new organism that [would] become an active factor in the work of culturalization of the masses, and for the development of creation.”(“Introductory remarks for the future Country Conference of the Romanian Artists’ Union (UAP) of the Romanian Popular Republic (RPR),” File 1/1950, Fund UAP, The Central National Archives of Romania (ANIC), f. 1.) This article is an adaptation of part of a forthcoming book about the role of the … Read more

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“Criticism Should Open Up Horizons for the Future”: The Albanian Union of Writers and Artists and the Status of Art Criticism in the People’s Republic of Albania

This article presents part of the history of the Union of Writers and Artists—the official organ devoted to literature and the fine arts in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania—and examines (in an incomplete way, of course) the contours of art criticism produced in accordance with official doctrine in Albania, especially in the 1970s decade. Like much Socialist Realist criticism, the output of the Union of Writers and Artists was frequently formulaic, but it also offered a field for artists working beyond the visual (and the union’s critics were almost invariably also practicing artists) to navigate Albanian art’s place vis-à-vis … Read more

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Forms of Involvement: The Czechoslovakian Artists’ Union and Its 1964 Congress

During the past decade, contemporary artists in Central and Eastern Europe have renewed their interest in Artists’ Unions, and have begun to self-organize.(This article is based on a study by Johana Lomová and Karel Šima, “Sjezd Svazu československých výtvarných umělců v roce 1964. Poznámky k úspěšnosti performance,” (The Conference of the SČSVU in 1964. Notes on the Success of One Performance) in Umění a revoluce (Art and Revolution), ed. Johana Lomová and Jindřich Vybíral (Praha: UMPRUM 2017), 512–545.) After years of what scholar Piotr Piotrowski termed “anti-communism,”(Piotr Piotrowski, Art and Democracy in Post-Communist Europe (London: Read more

Whose Land, Their Art? Debates over the Tendencies Exhibition Series (1980–81)

Money and Morals Then and Now

While at first glance the Artists’ Unions seem to be fossils of Eastern Europe’s state-socialist past, in fact they are still living with us, in several ways. First of all, they persist in the dream of a political utopia: after the short belle époque of welfare states, the current precarization of the cultural sector—especially affected by the COVID-19 crisis—provokes debates on the possibility of cultural workers’ unionization even in Eastern Europe. Secondly, while new institutions emerged after the political transition of 1989, the Artists’ Unions did not completely lose their importance as integrators of … Read more

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Everywhere and Nowhere: Understanding Russian Constructivism through Aleksei Gan

Kristin Romberg, Gan’s Constructivism: Aesthetic Theory for an Embedded Modernism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018), x + 297 pp.

With Gan’s Constructivism, Kristin Romberg demonstrates how to write about a figure who is at once central and marginal, everywhere and nowhere. Aleksei Gan’s contradictions, the stark contrasts between his ambitions and his absences, are manifold. He co-founded the First Working Group of Constructivists in 1921 and published Constructivism, the movement’s first theoretical treatise, in 1922, yet remains unmentioned in most histories. He commissioned Aleksandr Rodchenko to design costumes for a play that he never wrote. He directed … Read more

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Some Thoughts for Siah: An Obituary for Siah Armajani

Siavash (Siah) Armajani (1939–2020), a conceptual artist best known for his civic-minded public sculptures commissioned for sites across Europe and the U.S., passed away on Thursday, August 27, 2020 from complications related to heart disease. Armajani was born to a wealthy merchant family in Tehran. He was active in political opposition circles throughout high school and college, and was forced to leave Iran in 1960 while still a student at the University of Tehran. He subsequently emigrated to the U.S. and enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul where he continued his studies in Continental philosophy and American literature. In … Read more

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Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present

Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present. Edited by Beáta Hock and Anu Allas (New York and London: Routledge, 2018), 220 pp.

It is an interesting time to be reviewing a book that calls for “globalizing” art history, when everywhere there are calls for art history to decolonize. Is there a thread between the desire to globalize the study of East European art and the demands for a broader decolonization of the discipline of art history and its institutions?(For a variety of approaches to decolonizing art history, see the questionnaire, edited by Catherine Grant and Dorothy Price, Read more

Special Issue on Art and Race in Contemporary Eastern and Central Europe: Call for Contributions

ARTMargins Online is currently seeking submissions for a special issue on the intersection of art and race in contemporary Eastern and Central Europe. The issue will bring together artists, critics, and scholars whose work significantly engages with power structures and aesthetic paradigms that shape and are shaped by discourses on race, with an emphasis on postwar and contemporary practices. As right-wing populism and xenophobic policies rise across Europe and the globe, it is becoming all the more urgent to understand how artists working in the 20th and 21st centuries have approached race and its representation, racialized patterns of … Read more

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One on One: Pleurad Xhafa, 200 Million Euro (2020)

The “One on One” series presents timely encounters between ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, usually focused on one recent work. Recently, artist Pleurad Xhafa was among the protesters occupying the National Theater in Tirana in May of this year. Along with the other occupiers, Xhafa was arrested by police, and although he was subsequently released, he is currently facing charges including resisting arrest and illegal gathering.

Raino Isto: 200 Million Euro was originally installed on the stage of the National Theater of Tirana earlier this year, but it was destroyed—physically—together with that building in the early hours of … Read more

In View: Romans Suta’s Inuit Motif. Inuit Knowledge and Eastern European Art

“In View” is a new series of short essays focused on important artworks from the modern history of East-Central Europe that have been overlooked by prevailing art historical narratives. Each author in the series selects a single work that has been ignored in broader histories of global modernism or regional cultural histories, and offers a rich and close reading of that work, highlighting its nuance and import. Texts in the new series will vary widely in their geographic and chronological purview, but they all develop an argument for a specific work’s significance through a detailed examination of its genesis, context, … Read more

Open Call for Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future

One on One: Sera Boeno, Open Call for the Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future (2020)

Our ​new “One on One” series presents timely encounters between  ARTMargins Online editors and contemporary artists, focused on one specific recent work. In this (first) installment, Raino Isto talks with sculptor and installation artist Sera Boeno about her work Open Call for the Units of a Dispersed Monument in the Future (2020). The work is currently part of the online exhibition not (yet) futura free, organized by STABLE Arts in Washington, DC, curated by Nathalie von Veh.

Raino Isto: How did monuments become such a principal aspect of your practice?

Sera Boeno: I was born and raised in Istanbul, an … Read more

Haunted Bauhaus cover

Ghosts in the Machine: Exposing the Margins of the Bauhaus

Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019), 280 pp.

Whilst attempts to decenter art history have frequently focused on bringing to the fore marginal movements or places, an equally useful approach is reassessing those practices symbolically located in the center. As any historian of modern design knows, it is impossible to ignore the specter of the Bauhaus hovering unnervingly over any other design institution of the interwar period, especially those belonging to the peripheries. In her new book, Elizabeth Otto turns the tables and haunts the Bauhaus itself, unravelling … Read more

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Valdis Āboliņš. The Avant-garde, Mailart, the New Left, and Cultural Relations during the Cold War

Ieva Astahovska and Antra Priede-Krievkalne, eds., Valdis Āboliņš. The Avant-garde, Mailart, the New Left, and Cultural Relations during the Cold War (Riga: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2019), 662 pp.

Few publications deal with Latvian artists in exile who settled in various Western countries after they (or their parents) fled the approaching Soviet army at the end of the Second World War.(For a useful introduction to this topic, see the catalogue: Dace Lamberga, ed., Latviešu māksla trimdā – Latvian Art in Exile (Riga: LNMM & Neputns, 2013).) Costly and time-consuming research abroad is often necessary to tell the … Read more

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Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo

Katharina Schendl, ed., Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2018), 128pp.

Notes on Contemporary Art in Kosovo is a slim volume collecting eight short essays and two interviews focused on Kosovo’s art scene. Published as part of the tranzit.at (the Vienna-based branch of the transnational contemporary art network tranzit.org) Glossary series, the book’s stated goal is to provide the grounds for understanding how the contemporary art scene in Kosovo shaped itself beginning in the ‘90s decade. The texts included in the volume span the last twenty years,(In a few cases, it is unclear precisely when and Read more

Installation view

Mattis Teutsch: Avant-Garde and Constructive Realism

Mattis Teutsch: Avant-Garde and Constructive Realism, Scena9, Bucharest, September 12, 2019 – October 25, 2019

János Mattis Teutsch, the Hungarian-German-Romanian painter from Brașov, was characterised in 1920 as “the first who has the audacity to present to the Romanian public works in an expressionist style.” (Sigmund Maur, Rampa newspaper, October 21, 1920.) Mattis Teutsch was associated with the likes of Kandinsky, Marc, and Klee both in actual exhibitions, and in discussions of his artistic and conceptual calibre. His legacy today, however, is something of a battlefield, and the explanation for this lies in the seemingly incongruent bodies of … Read more

Installation view of Sammy Baloji’s exhibition Extractive Landscapes.

The Extractive Landscapes of Sammy Baloji

Sammy Baloji: Extractive Landscapes, Stadtgalerie Museumspavillon, Salzburg, July 25 – August 17, 2019 

A landscape that has been transformed by human intervention retells the story of the complex power play between different interests and concepts of reality. Such a landscape is never neutral, but rather constantly negotiated and explored, suggesting various interpretations and conclusions. Colonial expansion represented lands outside of the ‘civilized’ European framework as spaces in dire need of cultivation, civilization, and ultimately exploitation, their inhabitants included. Such attitudes continue to affect people in former colonies and beyond. Their material realities have permanently changed by the consequences of colonial … Read more

Red Discussion 2

Parole, Parole (As a Counter-Hegemonic Gesture): Red Discussion No. 2 (Pavilion of the Republic of North Macedonia; Maja Ćirić)

Parole, parole(The reference is to the famous Italian duet performed in 1972 by Mina and Alberto Lupo about appealing yet hollow, empty words.) (As a Counter-hegemonic Gesture): Red Discussion No. 2, part of Subversion to Red by Nada Prlja for The Pavilion of The Republic of North Macedonia

The number of professionals in the fields of the arts and humanities who are capable of critically reflecting upon the planetary condition appears to be small. Fewer still are those who express any critical, communal, or selfless interest in connecting the legacy of the arts and humanities to the … Read more

Documentation of performance

The Glitzy World We All Think We Want: An Interview with Zornitsa Stoyanova

Zornitsa Stoyanova is a performance artist working between the United States and Bulgaria. Currently based in Philadelphia, Stoyanova performs under the name Here[begin] Dance, and her practice involves the creation of large-scale props in front of her audience. Her work explores an amalgamation of genres, blending choreography, performance, song, and shadow play. This summer, Stoyanova took part in Etud and Friends, a dance and performance festival held in Sofia and one of a growing number of multidisciplinary events that seeks to bring together local and transnational artists and performers working in a variety of disciplines.

While Bulgaria hosts multiple dance Read more

View of the exhibition

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute at Berlin’s Gay Museum

Karol Radziszewski: Queer Archives Institute, Schwules Museum, Berlin, June 20 – September 23, 2019

From June 20 to September 23, 2019, Berlin’s Schwules Museum [Gay Museum] hosted an exhibition of queer archives from Eastern Europe collected and presented by Karol Radziszewski, Polish artist, activist, and founder of the Queer Archives Institute (QAI). The QAI is among the most extensive and most visible of a number of queer archives recently founded in Poland and in other Central and East European countries, where celebrating and memorializing non-heteronormative lives and cultural production remains a novelty, perhaps even a rarity. Historically, these countries differed … Read more