• Norma Jean Dunning-Clune

A Little History Lesson

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to check out the recent displays at the Museum of Russian Art located in Minneapolis. I wasn't sure what I was going to see, so it was going to be an adventure.



The main gallery was displaying the Soviet Posters. According to the brochure I picked up at the front counter, "the exhibit Soviet Posters from the Museum of Russian Art Collection brings together approximately forty works by Soviet artists from the 1940s to the 1980s." For me, the propaganda posters were pieces of elaborate art. I didn't always understand what was happening, so the information cards were extremely helpful.


One of the pieces that stood out to me was the rejection of alcohol. Consuming alcohol was considered a bad trait that caused the family unit to suffer. According to a subject essay by James von Geldern on the soviethistory.msu.edu website, "Alcoholism, however, was a major scourge in Soviet society, linked to high rates of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, absenteeism, and accidents on the job, and contributing to a rise in mortality rates particularly among Soviet males that was detected in the 1970s." So, with the banning of alcohol and war, and celebrating May Day, there was a lot of information to absorb. It was a very interesting history lesson.


The next exhibit was more intense in my opinion. Within the Fireside Gallery was the After the Explosion Documenting Chernobyl. According to the brochure, this exhibit "presents a unique collection of photographs of the cleanup of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, through the eyes of a participant."



The Chernobyl accident is the worst nuclear accident that has taken place in history. But, the damage that was done didn't just occur on the day. People were affected for miles around and for many, many years after. According to the World Nuclear Association website, "In 2011 Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction, with many visitors." And then, "In 2015 the published results of a major scientific study showed that the mammal population of the exclusion zone...was thriving, despite land contamination." So, here we are more than two decades later and things are finally starting to return to livable conditions. But, what exactly does that mean?


Seeing the photographs of what occurred during the clean up was otherworldly. There were pictures of vehicle graveyards. These were the locations of all the vehicles that we deemed unable to be cleaned of the radiation. There were pictures of how the workers has to be protected. They were only allowed to work two or three minutes at a time.

It was a wake up call of what can happen in other places around the world if anything should happen to the nuclear power plants in operation. It's scary to consider the damage that could occur in our lifetime.



The next exhibit I saw was the Village Wardrobes. This showed the traditional clothing that was worn in ten different regions of Ukraine. According to the brochure, "the exhibition highlights the remarkable variety of the country's ethnic attire and the outstanding quality and detail of those homemade garments."



This is an exhibit that must be seen in person to gain the most from it. I looked at the detailing of the flowers embroidered on the skirts and the attention given to each piece. It is truly breathtaking.


You only have until the beginning of November to see it before they switch it to something for the holiday season.



The final exhibit was Mystical Imprints: Marc Chagall, Ben-Zion, and Ben Shahn. According to the brochure, these three men were "Jewish artists born in the Russian Empire."

Of all the pieces that I saw, my favorite were Ben-Zion's The 36 Unknown. The Wanderer was a captivating piece to me. Though, more simplistic than some of the other pieces on display, this piece caught my eye and held it. There was just something about the single figure walking through the woods. My first thought upon seeing it was the quote from J.J.R. Tolkien, "not all those who wander are lost." And that's something that hits my soul.


Again, to really understand and appreciate these amazing pieces, you'll need to take a trip over to the Museum of Russian Art. You won't regret it. Trust me.

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