The Propaganda Museum is a pop-up installation designed to expose the false imperial narrative that underpins Russia’s ongoing murderous war against Ukraine today, a narrative of ‘fraternal nationhood’ according to which Ukraine is still part of the same country. Socialist Realist canvases, unstretched and unframed, are displayed as historical artefacts of Ukraine’s totalitarian past, where the state regulated artistic production and curbed the freedom of expression, mobilizing talented creatives to create propaganda art to bolster the Communist regime.
The images seem startingly familiar, nostalgic. Scenes of Lenin delivering impassioned speeches from a tribune in Red Square, or of smiling Red Pioneers greeting one another against the backdrop of the Artek international children’s camp in the Crimea, representing an alliance of European, Asian, and African Communist countries. Or full-length portraits of Karl Marx, a titan in a three-piece suit on Embankment, Thames, imagined by artists who themselves could never dream of going abroad. Serialized images, interpreted again and again, in oil paint on canvas, in bronze and marble, to fill administrative buildings, universities, schools, hospitals, cultural centres, and pedestals in every city, town, and village.
This is a past that Ukraine is determined never to return to. In 1991, Ukraine left the USSR, making an existential choice in favour of independence, national sovereignty, and democracy, and reaffirmed this choice during 2004’s Orange Revolution and the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity. Thousands of Lenin statues were toppled by activists across the country, freeing the public space of monumental propaganda in protest of continued, unwanted Russian influence. In March 2014, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, illegally annexing the Crimean peninsula and parts of the eastern regions of Donbas and Luhansk. A drawn-out war followed, taking tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives. But when on the 24th February 2022 Russia launched a full-scale attack on the Ukrainian capital, shelling residential buildings in the early hours of the morning, the whole world finally took notice. The overwhelming global support for Ukraine’s fight for its very existence is sadly not shared by the Russian population, brainwashed into defending its government’s unprovoked aggression by tactics straight out of the Soviet playbook.
Dorothy Circus Gallery’s commitment to restoring an appreciation for figurative art and their sensibility to outsider forms of expression aligns them with a global tradition of the study of propaganda art, from the Propaganda Poster Art Centre in Shanghai to the Museum of International Propaganda in California, and the work of the Koryo Group around the world. This unique project invites the viewer to experience the full scale and impact of a form of political expression that is alien to the free world today. It is a platform for condemning Russian aggression and disinformation, as well as any affront to the freedom of creative expression, and a means of raising funds to help humanitarian causes in Ukraine.