Visual Cultures of Socialism

Sowjet matchbox label from the 1960s © Collection Monica Rüthers
Sowjet matchbox label from the 1960s © Collection Monica Rüthers

Sowjet matchbox label from the 1960s. © Collection Monica Rüthers

Socialist visual cultures generated social and cultural codes that went far beyond the political iconographies. They defined central places for the negotiation of political and social relationships. The visual and pictorial conventions of the Soviet Union after 1945 are, alongside their transfer, the topic of the conference: The conference focuses on socialism as a central pathetic formula of the 20th century. How was socialism visually defined and represented? How was it made recognizable?

After 1945, visual cultures changed in the wake of reconstruction, the cold war, the thaw, stagnation and the period of transformation. Having been modeled after an ideal Stalinist Soviet Union in the postwar years, the socialist “brother countries” were soon forced to readapt to new slogans. Such changes (similar to the transition from avant-gardes and constructivism to socialist realism) led to ruptures on the one hand, but also – for example, in architecture and urban planning – to the coexistence of different concepts, to the simultaneity of the non-simultaneous. During periods of transition, the planning and implementation of new and old concepts existed side by side. Changes were not implemented at the same time and in the same way in different realms or in different socialist countries. Thus, disruptions remained visible and became part of the socialist city and everyday environments. Another ongoing confrontation with alternative projects and images appeared in the context of the cold war.
We seek to gain insights into the relationships between the control and production of images, the consumption of images and mass culture, the interaction between ‘high’ and ‘low’, in addition to the management of cultural and ethnic diversity in the socialist societies of the 20th century and the visual cultures tied to ruling practices.

Conference organisers: Prof. Dr. Monica Rüthers, Dr. Alexandra Köhring, Nathalie Keigel MA

The conference is open to the public on notification; please send a short mail to:


Wednesday, 18th March
9:00 – 10:00 Opening of the Conference

Panel 1
The Socialist Persona

10:00 – 11:00
Klaudija Sabo, University of Vienna
Tito – Icon of the Yugoslav Confederation

Sabine Stach, University of Leipzig
Hidden Heroes – Political martyrs in East Central Europe in the 1970s and 1980s

11:00 – 11:30 COFFEE BREAK

11:30 – 12:00
Beata Hock, GWZO Leipzig
Casualties of remembering communism: Women and their visual representation

12:00 – 12:30 Comment & Discussion
Monica Rüthers

12:30 – 14:00 LUNCH BREAK

Panel 2
Style and Material Culture

14:00 – 15:00
Kateryna Malaia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Animating Modernism: The Affective History of the Soviet Monumental 1960s

Sylvia Wölfel/ Christian Wölfel, TU Dresden
Technical Aesthetics — On the Aspiration for Designing a Socialist Material Culture

15:00 – 15:30 COFFEE BREAK

15:30 – 16:30
Elena Huber, University of Salzburg
Fashion, Media, and the Everyday Life: On the visualisation of Soviet national styles in the 1950s and 1960s

Gian Piero Piretto, University of Milan
Soviet shop windows as a world model

16:30 – 17:00
Comment & Discussion
Esther Meier, Alexandra Koehring

19:00 DINNER

Thursday, 19th March

Panel 3
Visual Mass Cultures

9:30 – 10:30
Pawe? Miedzinski,
Institute of National Remembrance, Szczecin
Color photo in Black&White – history of Central Photographic Agency

Carmen Scheide, University of St. Gallen
The visual construction of Soviet Ukraine

10:30 – 11:00 COFFEE BREAK

11:00 – 11:30
Matteo Bertelé, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
The Soviet illustrated postcard as an object of mass culture and ideological practices

11:30 – 12:00
Comment & Discussion
Nathalie Keigel

12:00 – 13:30 LUNCH BREAK

Panel 4
Failures and Irony

13:30 – 14:30
Lucia Halder, TU Braunschweig
Teleology of Failure. Visualizations of Socialism in West-German textbooks

Christoph Lorke, WWU Münster
Thinking the Social: Social Images of “Poverty” and the Construction of “Self” and “Otherness” in GDR Society

14:30 – 15:00 COFFEE BREAK

Christine Gölz, GWZO Leipzig
Merry Pictures of the Little Folk: The Cartoon Magazine “Veselye kartinki”, or What’s Left from the Socialist “Children’s World”

Micha Braun, University of Leipzig
Surrealistic Mimicry. Practices of Repetition and Imitation in Eastern European Performative Arts of the 1970s and ’80s

16:00 – 16:30
Comment & Discussion
Klara Pinerová

Nadine Siegert, University of Bayreuth
Images of nostalgic and utopian socialism: visuality and counter-visuality in Angola & Mozambique

20:00 DINNER

Friday, 20th March

Panel 5

9:30 – 10:30
Odeta Mikstaite, University of Greifswald
Performing the Village: “Authenticity” and rural aesthetics in the Soviet Lithuanian Ensemble Movement

Anna G. Piotrowska, Jagiellonian University, Cracow
Embodying ‘socialist emotions’ via image and music – The case of Polish state folk groups “Mazowsze” and “?l?sk”


11 – 11:30
Comment & Discussion
Ekaterina Emeliantseva

11:30 – 12:00
Closing remarks – END


University of Hamburg, Edmund Siemers Allee 1, 20146 Hamburg, ESA East Room 221


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