"For many decades, communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and as their equals." These immortal words of Nelson Mandela adorned the wall at the entrance to the Smart Gallery in Chicago's showing of "Vision and Communism," an exhibit of the artwork of Viktor Koretsky.
Koretsky was famous for his dramatic style and bold portrayals of the war on fascism and his critiques of treatment of Africans in Africa and in America. Koretsky was most famous from a war poster he created with a woman and her young son reminiscent of Madonna and child facing a swastika emblazoned bayonet that is dripping with blood. His shocking art won great favor during the Great Patriotic War (WWII), giving him prominence in his field of soviet propaganda design.
This showing is based around his work on the question of African liberation and most specifically against the apartheid government of South Africa. Walking through the gallery the contrast of paintings of men holding missiles while donning a Klan robe and the South African protest music pumping through the speakers was cryptic and reminded one of the true horrors that occurred in South Africa and at home in America and the fierce opposition that suffered greatly from them.
While images of skeletons and dollar signs made of rope encircling African necks shocked as intended, some other subject matter was displayed. Many anti-war posters simply proclaiming "peace" with images of people of all colors holding a red flag were juxtaposed against images of American GIs flaunting the watches and gold chains they attained as war spoils, and a poster of a young Vietnamese child reading a communist book on the wing of a downed American airplane.
Koretsky's in your face style and black and white view of the political world show a real connection between modern art and it's distant soviet counterpart. Both in style and in execution many artists today screaming at the injustices in the world through their canvases can see that even decades ago, on the other side of the planet, artists were paving the way for their arrival.
The Smart Museum is also currently displaying another small exhibit called 'Process and Artistry in the Soviet Vanguard' which shows the process by which some of the most famous soviet era propaganda posters were created step by step. Both exhibits run until Jan. 22, 2011, and are free to the public, and well worth the trip.