Soviet Asia: Propaganda in the 3D

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 23, 2020

When we think of propaganda Soviet style, it is usually in the form of mind control through the printed word and public speeches. Pamphlets, fliers and posters, items dropped from planes or pasted onto bus shelters, are the usual vehicles employed for changing the minds of the masses. But in post-Stalin Russia—the Soviet Union—the process of Sovietization was a universal program that touched every aspect of life. The Sovietization of Central Asia in particular was spearheaded by the design and construction of every type of building, from bus stops to high-rise apartment buildings to wedding palaces, factories and prisons. Above: Circus (1976), Tashkent, Uzbekistan; image © Roberto Conte


Influenced by Persian and Islamic architecture, pattern and mosaic motifs articulated a connection with Central Asia. Gray concrete slabs were juxtaposed with colorful tiling and rectilinear shapes broken by ornate curved forms: the brutal designs normally associated with Soviet-era architecture were reconstructed with Eastern characteristics. Above: Aul housing complex (1986), Almaty, Kazakhstan; image © Roberto Conte

Inside of the “majestic” residential buildings newly built from Bishkek to Tashkent and beyond, the flats were uniformly cramped and furnished with scaled-down furniture all the same. Families went to work and school at the same hour, returning home at the same time to watch the same propaganda on the TVs that came with their flats. Most people who made up the ranks of the “masses” lived this way.

Those possessed of an independent spirit, who cherished the tradition of family life in villages doggedly retained their customs. Living off the grid in remote hamlets, they were able to sustain their customs and even bring their home-grown vegetables to the newly Sovietized public markets in nearby cities. Above:  TV and radio building (1983), Almaty, Kazakhstan; image © Stefano Perego

But the architectural style and the immensity of the rebuilding project have largely escaped notice until recently. In 2007, Storefront for Art & Architecture organized CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions, a show of photographs by Frederic Chaubin of buildings from this era within the former Soviet Union. Scholarship about the Sovietization program was not available at the time, however, so the structures were perceived as visionary architecture [DART].  

In the book Soviet Asia, the Italian photographers Roberto Conte and Stefano Perego crossed the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, documenting buildings constructed from the 1950s through the 80s, continuing even after the fall of the USSR. Despite the recent revival of interest in Brutalist and modernist architecture, a number of these structures remain under threat of demolition. Above: Drilling tool plant (1980s), Samarkand, Uzbekistan; image © Stefano Perego

Soviet Asia: Soviet Modernist Architecture in Central Asia ( Fuel 2019) includes two contextual essays by Alessandro De Magistris and Marco Buttino. Info




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