Roger Huddle

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

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An exhibition marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution and its art should be a celebration of one of the most innovative periods in the history of the visual arts and humanity. Instead the Royal Academy has produced a stolid exhibition without any sense of what the revolution overthrew. Also it is supported by modern Russian art collections, which bolster the narrative of communism as dictatorship.

Trotsky said of 1917, “The revolution is, in the first place, an awakening of human personality in the masses — who were supposed to possess no personality…”

David King: The man who rescued the avant-garde

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Graphic designer David King, who died last month, was inspired by the art produced in revolutionary Russia. Roger Huddle looks back on a pathbreaking artist and his contribution to political struggle over five decades.

The news of his death came as a shock. We had come through the same history, but together for only a short period.

As times were changing during the two decades from 1965 young socialists began to discover the cultural upheavals during Russia’s revolution, hidden by Stalinism and ignored in the West. As the new left reconnected with Trotsky, those involved in cultural production discovered Constructivism, Agit-prop, the poetry of Mayakovsky and the photography of Rodchenko.

The Epic

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Jazz is a mercurial form of music. Separated from the mainstream by the stamp of “abstract obscurity”, it remains constantly changing and shifting.

Change is generated from the music’s roots in African-American life and culture. It lives and breathes in cities and communities, so it moves alongside all our social lives, loves and struggles.

Jazz follows the contours of struggle, both for freedom and from racism and oppression. It is linked to the struggle of classes.

So when changes start to happen within society generally, this emerges in the music.

Anarchy & Beauty

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At the centre of his understanding of art, William Morris saw an inseparable connection between the imagination of the worker and his or her labour.

His concept of art was not simply making art objects to place in galleries or hang on rich people’s walls, but the human labour involved in making all the objects of our lives. He argued ideas of beauty were integral to us as human beings. Art was a result of the pleasure gained in the process of making something beautiful.

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art

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Woman with a Rake

Tate Modern, London, until 26 October
The curators at Tate Modern have assembled, quite simply, a magnificent exhibition. Kazimir Malevich was born near Kiev in 1879. He died in 1935 after being diagnosed with cancer while imprisoned in one of Stalin’s camps. Throughout his adult life he was a revolutionary artist, an innovator and teacher.

Kino/Film

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Gallery for Russian Art and Design (GRAD), London, until 29 March

Cinema was in its infancy when revolution in Russia toppled the old order in 1917. From the beginning photography and film were seen as important educators by the new workers' government.

Lenin argued that finance for film should be divided between the popular and a cinema that widened the base of the revolution. For millions film brought the outside world into the their lives. Film could only be "real".

I'm New Here

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Album by Gil Scott-Heron; Out now

It's good to hear Gil Scott-Heron's deep voice - the voice of a poet mapping an emotional world - singing with more confidence than he has for a long while. After two decades struggling against drug and alcohol abuse he has made an album that those of us who remember him well will be happy with.

Tatlin's Tower

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Norbert Lynton, Yale University Press; £35

Norbert Lynton's book gives fantastic insight into the work of the extraordinary artist, Vladimir Tatlin. Lynton follows Tatlin's transition from paint into materials and three-dimensional construction. The development of constructivism as an art of the Russian revolution is explained and explored.

Adrian Mitchell - 1932-2008

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There is always opposition to the dominant culture - sometimes hidden, sometimes out in the open: a radical cultural tradition that accompanies our struggles for a different society, to give shape and meaning to our desire for another way of hearing, of seeing, of feeling. I got this from many people as I was growing up, and the poet Adrian Mitchell was one of those people.

Everything stopped for a moment when I heard of his death on 21 December. In that instant I remembered all those times he stood before me, the poetry of love and life and anger and outrage filling whatever space he had come to perform in. I stood with him in the middle of Piccadilly on 15 February 2003 - speechless, as we felt 2 million human beings for peace and against war moving around us like a slow, wide river. Adrian was momentarily the rock midstream.

Shakespeare on Mars

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In the week I read Andy Aitken's letter (Feedback, Socialist Review, September 2008) I heard an emotional, blistering performance of Dimitri Shostakovich's 10th Symphony played by the Berlin Philharmonic at the Proms.

This large, dark, brooding work on the death of Stalin uplifts the human spirit, a spirit that even Stalin couldn't crush. After all, Stalin was the man who said the sign of a good song is one you can whistle.

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