Revolutionary Blackness in the Soviet Imagination

Lecture | September 27 | 3:30-5 p.m. | 300 Wheeler Hall

 Jonathan Flatley, Professor of English, Wayne State University

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES), Department of English, Townsend Center for the Humanities, Department of Comparative Literature

In the present moment, amidst a global rise of white supremacy and racism, this paper recalls a moment of state supported global anti-racism. It focuses on the work of Soviet artist Victor Koretsky, whose posters from the from the 1930s to the 1970s present black revolutionaries combating racist imperial capital around the world. My hope is that his work may stimulate our political imaginaries, helping us to grasp our current situation and its moods and attunements anew. I also consider the global effects of Soviet anti-racism: how did anti-racist images, iconography, ideologies and feelings circulate across the Cold War divide? In the 1950s and 1960s, Koretsky’s posters responded to anti-colonial struggles in Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States with sharp images of racist violence and anti-racist resistance. These images just as often focused on police violence against protestors or the white hooded KKK as they did on icon-like full-faced portraits of black men confronting white supremacy. Keeping our focus on the connection between racism and capital, the dollar sign appears frequently as itself an agent of violence, as in one image where a giant blood-stained gold coin with a dollar sign in the middle rolls around the globe leaving “racism, exploitation, poverty, colonization, unemployment, and war” in its path. In attending to the particularity of the poster as a form designed to be ephemeral, ambient yet agitational elements of the everyday visual field, the paper considers what ways of seeing blackness are embodied in these images. How did they change how black lives mattered?