African Americans in Soviet Russia

George Tynes, flanked by Soviet army cadets

Zakkiyah Job wrote an interesting piece on the great African American escape to Soviet Russia.

Under Stalin’s de facto policy of ethnic cleansing, it’s hard to picture the USSR as any kind of paradise for persecuted minorities, but in stark contrast to the trauma and systemic oppression that people of colour had long-faced in the many parts of the western world, Mother Russia poised itself as a beacon of equality, ahead of the historical curve.

The likes of Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Dorothy West found themselves in the USSR, much to the chagrin of the American federal government. But the history of Black people in Russia goes further back to include people such as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a Cameroonian aristocrat who started an Afro-Russian dynasty in the 18th century.

After Ottoman forces kidnapped him as a boy from Cameroon, he was sold to a Russian diplomat and “gifted” to Peter the Great, who publicly adopted and freed him. Abram became a military engineer, a high-ranking general and a nobleman. He is also a maternal great-grandfather to the famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

For more on the subject, check out the following list of texts:

Stalker: the fatal movie of Andrei Tarkovsky

Last July, CinemaTyler uploaded a video essay about “Stalker”, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie about a person known as the “Stalker” who takes two clients to a restricted site known as the “Zone”, where a rumoured room grants a person’s innermost desires.

Seven years before filming his final masterpiece, The Sacrifice, Andrei Tarkovsky sacrificed his sanity to make Stalker. Stalker had one of the most difficult productions in cinema history and possibly even caused Tarkovsky’s death. So let’s see why one crew member described the production of Stalker as “a mirror of a hellish trip.”

Tarkovsky left Russia the same year Stalker was released and made two more films—Nostalghia in 1983 and The Sacrifice in 1986, before passing away later that year.

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Stalker (1979): The Sci-Fi Masterpiece That Killed Its Director

Enjoy aerial footage of Moscow in 5K

Moscow in 5K

By now you should be self-isolating/social distancing/flattening the curve. It’s been a struggle for many and one of the biggest things people are missing is going on holiday. But you don’t necessarily have to leave the house to experience another city or country.

TimelabPro is a team of aerial videographers who film different cities around the world using drones. For this one, they stayed close to home and filmed Moscow from above in stunning 5K resolution. The vibrant colours and arresting Soviet architecture are breathtaking to witness, even if the footage is fleeting.

One of the most alluring scenes in the video is of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture. It depicts two figures holding a sickle and a hammer over their heads and stands at 78ft tall (24.5m). Vera Mukhina was the sculptor, having initially made it for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris before it was moved to Moscow. An iconic Communist monument made in archetypal steel and a prime example of socialist realism.

In terms of equipment, TimelabPro used a DJI Inspire 2 to film the footage but buying one will set you back at least £3,059 should you want to try drone videography for yourself. I think once it’s safe to fly again, it’ll be more cost-effective to book a flight to Moscow and experience the city with a standard camera.

Postwar modernist Gunnar Birkerts dies at 92

Interview: Gunnar Birkerts (Michigan Modern™ Design that Shaped America)

Alexandra Lange wrote a brilliant piece on the modernist architect Gunnar Birkerts, who died this week at the age of 92. Birkerts was born in Latvia but fled his home towards the end of WWII as Russian troops entered.

After graduating from Technische Hochschule in 1949, Birkerts eventually opened an office in Detroit. His love of geometry shone through his work, in buildings such as Marquette Plaza in Minneapolis and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. His work was in contrast to the brutalism seen in Ukraine, not far from where he was born.

Stream an hour interview with Birkerts below.

The Cultural Legacy of the Russian Revolution (BBC Audio Doc)

If you’re foolish enough to succumb to the whims of the media, you’d think Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to paint Downing Street a bright shade of Soviet red. He may want a revolution but not in the way Russia experienced in 1917. In this BBC World Service radio documentary, special guests depict the cultural influences of the Russian Revolution.

From Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago to the politics of Lenin and Trotsky, it all comes as part of the Hope, Tragedy, Myths exhibition at the British Library in London. What did it mean to be part of the early days of the Revolution?

And what about the subsequent decades of communism and the hostility that came with it? A range of voices from Uzbekistan, Syria, and Iceland tell their respective stories about the cultural legacy left behind.

You can listen to the documentary on the BBC Sounds website (sign-in required).

Mangle - The Random LiveJournal Image Generator

But why does LJ have such a strong Russian following? Well, the company was sold to Russian media group SUP Media in 2007 and around half of LiveJournal’s audience are from or around Russia. In fact, Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin had a blog there until recently. It seemed the potential for the platform was squandered as Steven T. Wright surmised for Ars Technica:

But, as many of its former employees attest, LJ ultimately had the opportunity to become one of these “second-generation” social behemoths. Instead, a stubborn userbase and questionable business decisions harried those ambitions.

Mangle’s random image generation captures the essence of Russian life. From memes to old Soviet architecture to NSFW photos, it offers a look into a private country with a rich history. And like we said, there may be some NSFW images so discretion is advised.

Try it for yourself.