Alexandrov Ensemble

A thought on the Alexandrov Ensemble tragedy and art propaganda

in Art & Culture/Comment & Opinion/International Relations & Defence by

As we are all aware, populism exists across the whole political spectrum; yet we have learned to react to anything which differs from the left-winged consensus with anger and hysteria.

What recently caught my attention was the reaction of much of the  Western liberal crowd to the tragic perish of one third of the Alexandrov Ensemble in the air-crash in December 2016 and, in parallel, to the assassination of Russian ambassador in Turkey. From voices on social media to newspaper articles such as this gem on Daily News (US), both  tragedies were on a number of occasions described as an ironic payback to Putin’s “death-eater” international politics: his hegemonic strive for power and specifically the Russian intervention in Syria.

Seemingly for some members of the art world (and possibly not only for them), the tragic deaths of the 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble are regarded as some sort of an heroic end: an example of pure, innocent art perishing for a misguided political cause. What a number of these voices did not take into account is the essentially military nature of the Alexandrov Ensemble. Every member comes from the army and the group was founded in Moscow in 1926 as a tool to spread socialist ideals in playing music around the countries of Soviet Russia and the outside world. So even if the Alexandrovci were to die for a political cause (which was, allow me to stress it again, not the case), they would have been in full awareness of that very cause. These artists have not died because of Putin’s intervention in Syria, but solely because of faulty TU-154 planes that should have been removed from the airspace a long time ago.

Speaking of art propaganda:  spreading political ideology through art has indeed always been an instrument of politics, notably during the two World Wars and reaching a notorious peak during the Cold War between the US and Russia. What art propaganda does is that it uses intimate, relatable elements of art and reshapes them into a powerful and comprehensive tool of political influence. One could say that the intimate strength of art lies in the fact that it can be ultimately understood and shared by everyone. On rare moments, someone does propaganda through art so extremely well, such as the Alexandrov Ensemble (who shifted from their all-Russian approach and use influences from Georgian and other countries’ folk traditions), that it becomes a real masterpiece. That is art propaganda at its peak, exactly when we forget its hidden message, and instead get carried away by its powerful voice.

Alexandrov Ensemble performing a well-known Russian song “Smuglyanka-Moldovanka”, once intended to glorify the female partisans of the Russian Civil War

Alice Maselnikova is Czech artist, curator, and art coordinator based in Stockholm. Fond of (in alphabetical order): art, books, cheese, chess, jazz, nudes, philosophy, politics, whisky, wine and writing. She holds a BA (Hons) degree in Art, Philosophy, and Contemporary Practices and is taking an MA in Curating Art at Stockholm University. Most recently she was awarded the Transfer North Critical Curatorial Writing Residency 2016-17 and is focusing her research on curatorial practices in the rural context of north-west Russia.

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