Yevgeniy Fiks, Curator
October 20, 2021‑April 2, 2022
Gallery, Amherst Center for Russian Culture
For more information on the exhibition and to schedule a visit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. At this time, only members of Amherst College and the Five College Community are permitted into the Center.
“The Wayland Rudd Collection,” a conceptual project by the artist Yevgeniy Fiks, assembles an archive of visual works testifying to the Soviet Union's engagement with race relations in the United States and decolonization efforts in Africa. Rudd, the Collection's namesake, left America for the Soviet Union in the 1930s to pursue his ambitions of becoming a stage actor whose career would be unhindered by racial discrimination in America. The Collection contains poster art and postcards Fiks has selected as typifying the representation of Africans and African-Americans in Soviet graphic production and propaganda. It reveals a complex entanglement of race and communism, while also serving to remind us of the conflicted legacies of Soviet propaganda and the geopolitics of racism, both domestic and international, in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Inspired by Fiks’s project and in partnership with him, the ACRC is assembling “The Wayland Rudd Library,” a project that mirrors the Collection by assembling works testifying to the engagement of Black writers, artists, and thinkers with communism and the Soviet Union. It is an ongoing project and will be housed in the reading room of the Center during the duration of the exhibit. Patrons are encouraged to read the assembled material and to return as more material is added to the Library. They are also encouraged to recommend books for the Library.
In its current iteration, research for the Library is being conducted by Bebe Leistyna ’24 and Oliver Spiva ’24, in close association with the directors of the ACRC and Special Collections of Frost Library and Fiks. Together, this collaboration will ultimately expand both the ACRC’s and Frost’s collections in the areas central to the themes of the Rudd Collection, while also revealing novel ways of thinking through our own collection’s holdings and plans by assembling works that comprise an archive touching on such themes as anti-racism and the engagement of ethnic minorities with socialism and the Soviet Union.
* Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Lenin for Your Library?” in which he mailed V.I. Lenin’s text "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” to one hundred global corporations as a donation for their corporate libraries; “Communist Party USA,” a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement. Among his recent works are “Mother Tongue”, a multimedia project that explores the historical gay Russian defense language, a coded language dating back to Soviet times, and “Yiddish Cosmos”, a research project that uncovers the surprising connections between the Eastern-European Jewish experience, futurist utopianism, and the Soviet space program.
Fiks’s work has been shown internationally. This includes exhibitions in the United States at Winkleman and Postmasters galleries (both in New York), Mass MoCA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; in Russia, at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Marat Guelman Gallery (Moscow); as well as the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros (Mexico City) in Mexico and in Portugal, at the Museu Colecção Berardo (Lisbon). His work has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).
“Take that instrument away”: On Yevgeniy Fiks’s “The Wayland Rudd Collection” at Amherst Michael Kunichika, Director of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture
Members of the Amherst College community may recall Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s remarkable visit to the College in October 2019. During her wide-ranging conversation with Amherst College President Biddy Martin, Ginsburg touched on topics including the role of the Supreme Court in society and her own personal and professional history facing and overcoming sexism in her career and in her jurisprudence. She discussed her love of opera and noted how she had studied with Vladimir Nabokov, among others, at Cornell. In their conversation, Martin and Ginsburg discussed prominent Supreme Court cases, touching on such landmark decisions as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which overturned segregation in the United States. It was in that discussion that Ginsburg discussed the role that Soviet propaganda—such as the kind centrally displayed in “The Wayland Rudd Collection” curated by Yevgeniy Fiks—played in the U.S. Attorney General’s case to overturn segregation through Brown. The video is viewable here and in the gallery.
Indeed, in drawing attention to race relations in America—at times by placing the violence against Black Americans and Africans (which some of the works displayed in the gallery searingly demonstrate)—the Soviet Union consistently criticized the United States in propaganda and in such forums as the United Nations, while distracting from its own human rights abuses. This depiction of violence shook the conscience, while also being imbricated with the Soviet Union’s own geopolitical ambitions. These images alarmed the US State Department and the Office of the Attorney General because they were seen as capable of diminishing America’s global standing:
“Some of these attacks against us are based on falsehood or distortion; but the undeniable existence of racial discrimination gives unfriendly governments the most effective kind of ammunition for their propaganda warfare. The hostile reaction among normally friendly peoples, many of whom are particularly sensitive in regard to the status of non-European races, is growing in alarming proportions. In such countries the view is expressed more and more vocally that the United States is hypocritical in claiming to be the champion of democracy while permitting practices of racial discrimination here in this country.”
This passage above was from a letter the Attorney General cited in his amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in support of ending segregation. The Court ultimately found persuasive the argument that Ginsburg summarized during her visit, reflecting on the role that Soviet propaganda played during the case: “Take that instrument away from the Soviet Union and realize the principle that was established with the Holocaust… [that] odious racism is not compatible with any constitution that provides for the equal protection of the laws.” The exhibition affords us an opportunity to see first-hand what those instruments were and to consider the complex legacy of Soviet visual culture as it took up the causes of decolonization and anti-racism in its global competition with the United States.
Related Events in Winter '21-22:
* Exhibition Reception: October 19, 2021 @ 4:30-6:00
Tent located at the northeast entrance to Webster Hall, Main Quad
* Book Launch: The Wayland Rudd Collection (New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021)
* Symposium: "On the Beneficence of Propaganda"