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Cosmonauts and Cotton-Pickers – Soviet Central Asia and the Use of Public Art as Propaganda Chris Alexander Wednesday 12 February 2020

This lecture explores the birth of the Soviet mosaic from its roots in Islamic mosaics and Communist propagandist posters through to the question of preservation in post-Soviet Central Asia. We explore why Soviet thinking was so keen to bring art out of galleries and into public spaces, and how, in an era when Socialist Realism was the only permitted artistic expression, every public artwork came with a message, a value and an agenda. How did Soviet artists deal with the uncomfortable reality that Muslim Central Asia was a Russian colonial conquest? In what ways were gender, race, work, leisure and achievement important when it came to shaping Central Asians’ ideas of their own identity within the wider Soviet family?

Chris Alexander was born in Turkey (hence his middle name) and spent his childhood there and in war-torn Beirut. After school, Chris spent two years at sea before studying Media and journalism at Leicester University. He then moved to Khiva, a desert oasis in Uzbekistan, establishing a UNESCO workshop reviving fifteenth century carpet designs and embroideries, creating income for women. After a year in the UK writing A Carpet Ride to Khiva, he moved to the Pamirs in Tajikistan, training yak herders to comb their yaks for their cashmere-like down, spending three years there. Next came two years in Kyrgyzstan living in the world’s largest natural walnut forest and establishing a wood-carving workshop. Chris has recently finished rowing and studying at Oxford and is now a curate at St. Barnabas, North Finchley, and author of Alabaster and Manacle. He returns to Central Asia whenever he can and conducts tours there.