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Cultural Identity Through Art: A Twentieth Century Russian Art Museum, Baltimore, MD Open Access

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Cultural Identity Through Art: A Twentieth Century Russian Art MuseumJulia Golod McCann, Master of Arts in Interior DesignCorcoran School of Arts and Design, The George Washington University, 2016Thesis Advisors: Ben Ames and Christy SchlesingerArt is a reflection of the political climate of a nation: the power, the strength, the wealth, the access and control of resources, the emotional climate of the people, and the freedom or constraint for the nation’s artists to express or interpret that underlying contemporaneous feeling. Once the artists produce their interpretation of the politically influenced climate, the people view the art and are propelled into an emotional path; either reinforced deeper feelings or swayed into a completely different direction. Artists like all people do not always recognize the true agenda, nor do they always have the freedom to truly express the current political themes, for fear of oppression and retaliation. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Russian avant-garde artists jumped to the aid of the seemingly progressive revolutionaries and aided their cause through their art. Coupling with the revolutionaries gave the avant-garde greater recognition, greater exposure, greater acceptance, brought them to the forefront through the communist agenda. At first, this dynamic seemed to be beneficial for both parties; the artists quickly found out that their art would be censored and the content would be dictated by the government. Non-compliance would face steep consequences. This dynamic mirrored civilians in revolutionary times as well. Communism initially brought hope and the appearance of new equalities and freedoms that the common man didn’t previously possess. Civilians were magnetized to the cause, thus propelling the revolution. Unfortunately, the hope and dreams of the artists and the people were quickly squelched, the true nature of intimidation, control and narrow parameters surfaced. Artists and people were no longer allowed to freely express themselves. Gone were the days of cutting edge political artistic editorialize on current events, and freedom of speech.Since artists and people always longed to express themselves, the artists had to be creative about how to editorialize on the current political climate. Many worked within their restrictive parameters to produce something the government would accept and at the same time relay hidden meaning. Others secretly distributed their art in a highly desirable underground art culture. The general population couldn’t see the hidden symbolism in lawfully acceptable art; the ones that could benefited. But they all had to pretend that there was no such dialogue. Unfortunately this farce caused the disassociation from any meaningful art with the general population, which eventually led to a general disassociation with cultural connection and identity among the Russian people.Without the ability to connect with one’s culture, associated with lack of freedom to access or expression, one loses pride and ownership with their historical heritage. In this disconnect, trauma develops, and shame with one’s identity. By recreating access and connection with true contemporary artistic expression one can regain pride in one’s heritage and release the trauma. A twentieth century Russian art museum, a cultural venue which pridefully displays works of art from a once closed-off culture, can enable Russians to connect with or rekindle their cultural identity through that art.

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