Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Oil and Wool: Handicrafts and “Nationalist in Form, Socialist in Content” in Early Soviet Culture, 1921-1953

Fri31  Mar02:45pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 253


Sohee Ryuk1
1 Columbia University, United States


How were socialist themes reflected in goods that were, by design, hand-made? Soviet handicrafts was often associated with nationalities or regional particularities, as can be seen from examples such as Caucasian silver daggers, Vologda lacemaking, and Palekh lacquer boxes, or carpets from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Throughout the Soviet period, craftsmen integrated national or regional modes of making with overarching socialist themes. This paper examines how messages of Soviet universalism were reflected in carpets from the Caucasus and Central Asia. The formula that many carpets used was incorporating grand scenes or portraits in the central field of the carpet, while retaining the border to highlight the national origins of the carpet. In doing so, the carpets blended together the national forms with themes that were ideologically encouraged. The paper examines several carpets that follow this formula, including portrait carpets and carpets that depict sweeping scenes of industrialization. Yet, “nationalist in form, socialist in content” does not tell the whole story of the carpets’ production. As carpets sought to merge the nationalist forms with socialist content, “national” forms were being negotiated at the same time. The paper utilizes visual analysis as well as archival sources to provide an in-depth look at how early Soviet “plot” and “portrait” carpets straddled the line between handicraft, socialist production, and national origins.