Telephone exchange mural – Tskaltubo

Telephone exchange mural - Tskaltubo

Telephone exchange mural – Tskaltubo

More on the Republic of Georgia

Telephone exchange mural – Tskaltubo

The terracotta mural portraying a group of telecommunications workers is an interesting, and in some aspects quite charming, piece of public art which is probably missed by the vast majority of visitors to the once immensely popular, and populous, spa town of Tskaltubo, not far from the city of Kutaisi in western Georgia.

Socialist Realist?

I am presenting it here for its curiosity value alone and do not plan to look too deeply into what is depicted as I don’t consider it fits into the definition I’ve been following of Socialist Realist art.

Just because a piece of art is produced and put on show in a country that calls itself ‘socialist’ doesn’t then – automatically – mean that it is a ‘Socialist Realist’ work of art. Realist yes, even social realist, but not Socialist Realist.

This mural, showing workers doing their job, is radically different from the mural that sits above the main entrance to Spring No. 6 – which is only a few minutes walk away.

That mural, which represents a visit of Joseph Stalin to the town in the early 1950s, had a very specific rationale. It was produced to demonstrate a unity between the people in one of the Republics on the edge of the vast USSR with the leadership in the capital of Moscow.

On the other hand the mural on the wall of the telephone exchange is mere decoration. Charming though it may be.

The terracotta mural is of a much later date (although the exact one I don’t know – but would guess 1970s at the earliest). And that’s important. Three years after the death of Stalin in 1953 the then leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, not only denounced Joseph Stalin as an individual he basically attacked all the gains and victories that had been achieved since the October Revolution of 1917. He didn’t say that (after all he was a traitor to Marxism-Leninism and had to hide his revisionism from the assembled delegates at the 20th Party Congress) but all that happened during his time at the head of the Party and country, as with subsequent ‘leaders’ until 1990, was to turn back the construction of Socialism and allow the re-establishment of capitalism in the world’s first ‘Communist State’.

So those works of art produced from the mid-1950s onwards weren’t produced to aid the development of Socialism but to reflect the capitalist road on which the Soviet Union was now following. I will accept that there might have been works of art that challenged the change of direction but they still couldn’t be considered Socialist Realist as the economic base of the country was no longer socialist.

The Mural

Although the main body of the mural – which stretches the width of the shortest wall of the large rectangular telephone exchange – depicts men (and they are all men) in the task of erecting telegraph poles in an effort to create a means of long distance communication between the young couple at the extreme right and left of the mural. This is a 20th century activity but their look is essentially from the pre-revolutionary period.

This is especially the case if you look at the heads of all the workers. Their hairstyles are what you’d expect to see on some classical Greek sculpture and even their clothes point to an earlier era. This more ‘traditional’ dress is accentuated with the style of the clothing of the two young people at either end. It says more late 19th rather than late 20th century.

All the activity in the centre seems to be geared to uniting these two young ‘lovers’. They are in rural settings whereas the telecommunication workers indicate a city and industrial environment. The young woman is bringing a telephone receiver (the style of which you only see in museums now but which was ubiquitous for the majority of time of telephonic communication) to her left ear. Why the male doesn’t also hold a handset is confusing. He just seems as if he were walking on a cloud, not really aware of anything.

Georgian post-socialist depiction of women

Georgian post-socialist depiction of women

As for the young woman I have to make reference to her breasts as the unreal depiction of the female breast is ubiquitous in Georgian sculpture of the revisionist (post Socialist) period in the country’s cultural history. The breasts seem like small bowls that have been plunked on their chests. The vast majority of sculptures of women produced during times of the construction of Socialism I wouldn’t exactly say play down the female form but in Georgia it wasn’t until the success of revisionism that the emphasis on shape, and sexuality, seems to have become the norm.

This can be seen most obviously (sic) in the large sculpture of ‘Mother Georgia’ in the hills above Tbilisi. There are other examples; on the market mural, the sculptural group in the centre of the town as well as a number of (damaged) female sculptures in the courtyard of the Kakabadze Fine Art Gallery all in Kutaisi; the facade of the magistrates court in Tskaltubo; and even on the large sculpture of ‘Victory’ which dominates the hill above the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Vake Park in Tbilisi. (Links to these locations to follow.)

Contrast all these depictions with the only two female sculptures from the Socialist period still on public show, that I’ve seen in Georgia, which are part of the façade of the Rustaveli Cinema on Rustaveli Avenue in the centre of Tbilisi.

If we refer to another country which depict women in Socialist Realist art then there are many examples in Albania. To select just a couple there’s the the statue of Liri Gero (behind the National Art Gallery) in Tirana – but contrast that with the very recent sculpture in her home town of Fier where she looks like a 21st century young woman out on the town on a Friday night – or the sculpture of the female partisan and child in the Lushnje Martyrs’ Cemetery

How the mural is made

Method of construction

Method of construction

The method of construction is also quite unique (at least for me) in that rather large chunks of the terracotta seem to be made and then all is revealed when the pieces are put together as in a very large, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. This same technique is also used in the mural on the west facing wall of the market in Kutaisi – not far from the marshrutka (mini-bus) stop to Tskaltubo. More information will be provided as and when I come across it.

Location

On the left on left as you go down Tseretseli Street from the main bazaar towards Central Park.

GPS

42.3271

42.6001

How to get to Tskaltubo

Marshrutka number 30 leaves from its terminus on the western side of the Red Bridge, which crosses the Rioni River beside the main Kutaisi market. Closer to the market is the stop for a number of buses but you walk through that area (passing a cheap out door bar on the right) to cross the red painted iron bridge. The marshrutka will be on the left once on the other side. They leave roughly every 20 minutes. Cost GEL 1.20 (not the GEL 2 as in some guide books – although some of the drivers will take the GEL 2 and say nothing although others are honest). The price will be on a piece of paper somewhere, normally at the front of the vehicle.

Journey takes about 30 minutes to get to the centre of Tskaltubo. Once you cross the railway track (after 20 or so minutes) you are at the bottom end of Central Park. The marshrutka then follows Rustaveli Street on the eastern edge of the park passing the railway station and information office, the Municipality, Court and Police buildings, and then the entrance to the huge (now luxury 5 star) Tskaltubo Spa Resort all on the right. (The marshrutka takes the same route when going back to Kutaisi and can just be flagged down anywhere along this road.)

When you get to the northern edge of the park the road widens out and after passing the Sports Palace on the left and the now being renovated (although seemed stalled to me) huge Shakhtar Sanatorium on the right the marshrutka heads up to the main market. Get off when the bus turns right at the corner by the ugly, modern Sataplia Hotel. This is where you would look for another marshrutka if you wanted to go to the Prometheus Cave.

To get to the telephone exchange and the Central Park go back along Tseretseli Street (not the road you came up) and the mural is on the left just as the road heads slightly down hill – the park spread out in front of you.

More on the Republic of Georgia

Chinese Revolutionary Art – 1975

Chairman Mao Tse-tung

Chairman Mao Tse-tung

More on China …..

Chinese Revolutionary Art – 1975

So far the emphasis on this blog has been on those examples of Socialist Realist art that I have encountered on various visits to Albania in the past few years – especially the ‘lapidars’ (public monuments and sculptures). One of the drivers for starting this project was the fear that due to both active political vandalism and simple lack of care many of these unique works of socialist art were likely to disappear in the near future and would be lost to posterity.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey of 2014 meant that, at least, those monuments that still existed and were identified at the time would be recorded in as much detail as possible, including a comprehensive photographic record of their condition in 2014. The fate of those lapidars has varied in the intervening years, some suffering further decay others suffering inappropriate (if at times well meaning) and destructive ‘renovation’.

With many of the lapidars I have visited I have attempted to carry out a deep reading of what they represent and have tried to put them in their historical context. I don’t even try to maintain that I have always got it right but in lieu of any other such record (much information about the more than 650 lapidars covered in the ALS investigation – and many other works of art, such as bas reliefs, mosaics, etc. – having been destroyed or lost in the chaotic years of the 1990s) I hope my efforts can help in reconstructing a comprehensive data base for the future. Although many have already been written about on this blog there are still many to follow.

Travelling quite extensively around the country I have encountered artistic elements of the socialist past that were outside the remit of the ALS. That includes the likes of the mosaics (Bestrove, Tirana Historical Museum and on the Bashkia in Ura Vajgurore – to name a few) and bas reliefs (for example, the Durres Tobacco Factory and Radio Kukesi) already mention as well as paintings (in the National Art Gallery in Tirana), statues (including the ‘Sculpture Park‘ behind the National Art Gallery and the 68 Girls of Fier), stand alone structures (such as the Party Emblem in Peshkopia) and murals (such as the Traditional Wedding Mural in the hotel restaurant also in Peshkopia), exhibits in museums and a number of other works that have (sometimes) miraculously survived the 30 years following the success of the counter-revolution.

By the time the Party of Labour of Albania had achieved victory over the fascist invaders in November 1944 the idea of Socialist Realist Art as something Socialist countries should encourage had become entrenched in the thinking of revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. I presented my interpretation of this when discussing art in Albania but the same arguments would suit the use of art in the other major Socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union and China.

I intend to look at Soviet Socialist Realist Art, initially, by reading the stories being told in the Metro stations, principally of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow.

When it comes to the People’s Republic of China there are already examples of the use of art in the struggle to establish Socialism in the pages of Chinese Literature. Various issues of that magazine are available from 1953 to 1981 (the final 5 years an example of how literature and art can be used to turn back Socialism in a similar way it was used to promote Socialism from 1949 till just after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976).

The Chinese approach to literature and art can also be gleaned from the works of the writer and cultural theorist Lu Hsun.

Here I present a slide show of a collection of posters from the last, full revolutionary year of the People’s Republic of China (1975) to give an idea of how Chinese poster art had developed to that date.

More on China …..

Food banks – the biggest growing business in Britain after charity shops

No more beans for the foodbanks!

Baked beans are still the main contribution to foodbanks

Foodbanks are becoming a feature of British society as the ‘austerity’ measure bite. The nation should prepare itself for a great deal more hot air as more and more people become dependent upon charity.

Earlier in the year, during and after my trip to Catalonia, I posted a couple of articles about how people in Spain and Catalonia were dealing with the austerity measures that were having such a dramatic impact upon an increasing number of people. What I wanted to stress there was the fact of people taking direct action. People weren’t just sitting back and suffering without a fight.

This included a number of raids on supermarkets (where activists would take basic foodstuffs without paying in order to highlight the desperate situation of many people) and that movement spread, during late August, to cover a number of areas of the country. I must admit that since returning to the UK I haven’t kept up to date with any subsequent developments but, at least, people are still angry as can be seen by the activity on the streets of the likes of Madrid and Barcelona.

At the same time there were statements being made by Spanish judges and rich politicians that what the poor and hungry should do is go, cap in hand, asking ‘Can I have a little more, Sir’, Oliver Twist wise. Just be servile and perhaps a few crumbs will fall from the rich man’s (and woman’s) table and survival might be possible.

This after years of so-called ‘prosperity’ when everything was possible, when deprivation was to be a thing of the past. But these false promises, based upon the spending of money that did not exist, did not take into account the periodic crises of capitalism that occur, have occurred and will occur, at (irregular but normally decade long) intervals for as long as capitalism exists. The ‘Third Way’ promised by Blair was nothing more than new wine in old bottles.

In my post about Reus I wrote about the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) distributing monies to the poor and then went on to discuss the issue of collection of food for distribution to the poor and needy. I was surprised to learn that this was happening in Spain, which is not, on the world scale of things, a poor country but even more surprised to learn that foodbanks were common in the US (and had been since 1967!) and becoming common in the UK.

A few days ago I read that a new foodbank is about to open in Warrington, just a few miles down the road. This prompted me to check if they existed in Liverpool and was ‘shocked’ to discover that they do, and are spreading. I was even more shocked to read the statement from one of the biggest ‘providers’ of these foodbanks:

“The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.”

‘Our goal’, it seems, is to perpetuate poverty and charity, not do something about it so that people can live in dignity and security.

In the intervening days there have been more references to foodbanks, even being the topic of an edition of the Food Programme on Radio 4. Mostly run by churches, of all denominations, this seems to be a way that religion (‘the opium of the masses’) is trying to inveigle its way back into society after being effectively rejected and marginalised in recent times.

And there doesn’t seem to be an end of the demand for these charity outlets. Each year since the crash occurred in 2008 we have been told that next year will see improvements. Such statements have obviously been lies or (at best) wishful thinking. Now the UK government is saying that austerity is with us for – at least – another 5 years. And what happens on the streets of Britain? Nothing!

That nothing in the past has prompted the present coalition of Tories to attack even more aspects of the welfare state that was sold to the country in the immediate post-WWII period to ward off and potentially revolutionary activity on behalf of the working class. As the descendants of those who fought against fascism are prepared to do nothing then it should be no surprise that the ruling class continues its attacks. When ‘austerity’ eventually ends there will be nothing left but the dog eat dog, care nothing for anyone else, selfish society that was the dream of Thatcher and Blair. If anyone thinks that what we once had would return with the ‘good times’ they are deluding themselves.

What was gained in the past by struggle and which is being taken away due to acquiescence will not reappear without an even greater struggle in the future.

When even the departing Governor of the Bank of England has said, on a number of occasions, that he is surprised that the people of Britain have not taken to the streets in reaction to what has taken place in the last 4 or 5 years; when the trade unions in this country don’t make an effort to show a modicum of support for fellow workers in the rest of Europe when they take to the streets to express their anger at the wholesale robbery of a nation’s resources, through privatisation, and the removal of hard-won terms and conditions of employment; when the people of the UK revert to a situation more akin to that at the end of the 19th century with imperialist pretensions and support for foreign wars (already there is UK army involvement in Syria and it’s only a matter of time before something kicks off in Iran); when billions of pounds are being spent, and many more billions being committed, for more modern and sophisticated weapons to ensure that ‘we’ can kill more of ‘them’ with less and less risk to ‘our boys (and girls)’; when a nation effectively sticks its head in the sand and hopes that all the problems will just go quietly away then the people of this country better get a liking for baked beans.

For that will become their basic diet if they are forced to rely on charity. Despite all the years of campaigning about a balanced diet and the experience from the Miners Strike of 1984-5 it’s tins of baked beans that predominate in donations to foodbanks.

2019 Update

This post was first published in 2012. Then I said food banks were one of the biggest growth areas in the fifth most richest economies in the world. But in place of making efforts to see the elimination of such obscenities the people of Britain have been quite happy to see the need for such locations expand. A recent article about the number of people in Scotland who depend upon these centres (and the disinterest of government ministers) demonstrates that the growth in this area is becoming almost unstoppable. A civilised country would consider the existence of such places a disgrace – but too many of those who are unfortunate enough to live in Britain don’t seem to see that.

The food bank juggernaut continues to forge ahead

In Britain – at the end of 2019 – there are few days when food banks aren’t in the news for one reason or another. And we are sure to see that continue with the success of the Tories in the December election. Even some of the ‘patrons’ of food banks came out as Tory supporters so there’s little chance of them (the food banks not the ‘patrons’) disappearing in the near future.

As the governments of the last nine years and the government for the next five – unless British workers wake up to the disaster that is unfolding around them – have and will continue to create a situation where food banks are necessary then stories about them are likely to become even more bizarre.

Many new Tory MPs probably didn’t really think they would win and now that they have been pushed into the public eye revelations of how they have benefited from the policies of the past will start to come to light. One such is how a new Tory MP has been making money out of the food banks – which is quite clever if you think about it. Support a system that creates a need and then make a profit out of the structure created to alleviate the problem. It’s a win win, as they say.