Kyrgyzstan’s Soviet-era poster child gets an iPad

When he wasn’t depicting Kyrgyzstan’s awesome nature, Semyon Chuikov, an Honoured Artist of the USSR born in what is now the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in 1902, was always careful to make sure his artwork didn’t stray beyond the strict, socialist parameters provided for by Soviet artistic policy.

Were Chuikov still alive, he might be surprised to learn that one of his most famous and iconic paintings – “Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia” – is being remade with a twist thanks to the help of a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek.

“Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia” is a jewel of Soviet-era propaganda, emphasizing social and economic progress in Moscow’s rural hinterland. The painting’s muse — a red headscarf-wearing Kyrgyz schoolgirl striding to her classes with an exercise book in hand — became famous across the USSR. In Kyrgyzstan, then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kyrgyzia, she turned into something of a national icon.

By the start of the school year this year she will have a new look, spray-painted onto the facade of a four-story state school in Bishkek, holding what appears to be an iPad and wearing what appear to be Apple’s signature white ear phones. The remake was paid for by the U.S. Embassy and completed by a group of local artists working with an American painter.

Some have already registered their irritation at the image, currently half-painted on Bishkek’s School No.12. On independent media outlet’s facebook page, one user, Rimma Borubaevna Diushenbieva, wrote:

“They could have avoided defacing the painting: there was no need to rush to show themselves off or take something away from the [original] author. The [original painting] is simply beautiful.”

However, founder Bektour Iskender cautioned against sentimentalizing the country’s historical heroes and revelling in the past:

“Of course, the tablet and headphones – it’s incredibly trivial. But let it be. It is good when you can modify the sacred with impunity. I am for absolute creative freedom. There should not be anything or anyone around which we should be afraid to breathe. I want my country not to be afraid to joke aboutManasKalpaksKurmanjan DatkaChinghiz Aitmatov…We are strong when we can relate easily and with humor to any phenomenon of our past, and not when we waste our time fighting with windmills. I can already imagine the embers of fury pouring forth from the soldiers of the sacred, all because the Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia has been given a tablet. Well, good health to them.”

The painting will be unveiled at the “first bell” of the Kyrgyz school year on September 1. Apple will no doubt pass on their thanks to Washington for the free advert.

This article was originally written by Chris Rickelton and appeared on Global Voices. It has been published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.




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