The aesthetics of post-Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc states are increasingly being looked at with a mysterious admiration: whether Gosha Rubchinskiy's disaffected Moscow skater boys, Soviet-era relics sourced from eBay and expensive boutiques, or bizarre Brutalist architecture that reeks of conformity and force.
But the exchange isn't one-sided. Kids who grew up in Russia, Ukraine, or Yugoslavia soon after the Iron Curtain fell are now defining their identity against a consumer history they never had. Marie Tomanova, who was born in communist Czechoslovakia and turned five as the Eastern Bloc collapsed, has curated a photography show capturing youth culture in states that weren't just geographically isolated until the early 90s. Baby, I Like It Raw is inspired by the stark, often-NSFW photos of her favorite photographer: Boris Mikhailov. The post-Soviet artist was repeatedly persecuted for capturing youth living far outside what the authorities considered acceptable. Once he was arrested for making pictures of people drinking.
"Given the tense political climate between the U.S. and Russia, we thought it would be nice to show how young people who grew up right after the Iron Curtain fell see their environment," says Marie, also has work in the show. She describes the theme as a confronting and clashing of East and West, one fuelled by our post-war gluttony. "The West has grown fat, fat, fat and gluttonous," she says. "Post-WWII, it has devoured everything and spun a global web of consumer desire, shaping identity through materialism and media." Marie curated the show alongside Thomas Beachdel, who is American.
"It is fascinating to see his reactions to things that are so common and normal for me," she says. "I remember all these little things from my childhood, like having oranges and tangerines only around Christmas and only if you had the right connections. People would wait for hours before the store opens to buy a washing machine when they announced that they would have them in stock. I remember that my mom was collecting German BurdaStyle magazines, which ere really hard to get, and was sewing outfits for me. That was so special since otherwise everybody was wearing more or less the same outfits as there wasn't much to choose from."
Included in the show are Berlin-via-Georgia's George Nebieridze, who we last saw capturing the sexual liberation and damn good raves of his new German hometown, Gosha-approved Russian photographer Masha Demianova, and radical Kiev-based art collective Gorsad. Some artists in the show have never before had their work shown in the United States.
"Baby, I Like It Raw" is on view from March 2 — April 4 at the Czech Center New York. An opening party will take place tonight at 7pm.
Text Hannah Ongley