Posts Tagged ‘russia’

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Ushangi: The Sculptor in Silence

July 1, 2012

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Located between Museum Row and Melrose, up-the-way from Farmer’s Market, and across from CBS, you may find a very, very old rock. However, to describe it as an ordinary rock would be inaccurate. It is not mixed with tar and oil holding the streets of neighborhood together, and it is not what you would find walking in the local hills to peer across the ocean. Nor is it the ten million dollar rock being installed at LACMA. Rather, it is a unique rock, with its soul revealed, its song let loose, and its heart etched free from earthly bounds.

Standing beside this rock, you will find another stranger in this neighborhood, Ushangi, the sculptor. Born in the old Soviet Union, the story of Ushangi’s immigration to the United States for creative freedom is not nearly as interesting as what he has done with that achieved liberation. Unhindered by politics, set free from culture, and mixed with an immense amount of open American country, Ushangi has found a balance between the venerable earth and the yawning sky.

When you enter Ushangi’s new studio, paintings cover the walls and sculptures stand in attendance. Within these images, mythological stories, archetypal portraits, and personal narrative meet in conversation. Color and mood mix to create scenes set in open spaces. Key to Ushangi’s work is his use of voice and silence. In each piece, there is an important story, but there is also a place of silence, an abyss of reflection.

Whether Ushangi is carving the hidden figure free from stone, pulling a new dimension from blank canvas, or teaching a class of students how to see and create, the relationship between form and emotion is examined. Color, texture, shape, and shadow are key to Ushangi’s immense amount of work. Although his style, content, and material may be varied, the underlying questions remain true to his experience of the world as a sculptor; Ushangi’s goal is to reveal what is hidden within the rock of our own eyes.

While there are countless young artists co-habiting the studios, exhibitions, and museums within the same radius, Ushangi stands separate; partly because of his classical training and cultural roots, partly because of his mature age and international recognition, but mostly because of his humor and unabashed curiosity. Ushangi draws emotional breath from stone. He does not try to create an identity for himself or for others. Rather, he strives to reveal the authentic soul, song and heart that are already there.

www.ushangi.com

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The Rigors of Anna Akhmatova

June 11, 2011

Born into pre-revolutionary Russia, Anna Akhmatova lived through nearly every epoch of life within the Soviet Union. A poetess first published in her early teens, Akhmatova was well-known as a thinker and muse amongst the intelligentsia. However, while her ability was clear prior to the revolution, it was her role as witness that has made her legacy. Executions, imprisonment, abandonment, suicide, and slow death defined day-to-day living. Oppression of thought through spies and bugs were typical. And memory became the greatest tool of rebellion.

At one point in this history, for seventeen months Akhmatova waited outside a prison each day to bring food to her son, or to advocate for his release. Published in the St. Petersburg Journal in the New York Times is an account of the day she was recognized:

“One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

‘Can you describe this?’

And I said: ‘I can.’

“Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.”

Central to this retelling is the ability of the poet to stand as a witness to the misuse of power and the horrors of reality.

Which leads to the question of how can poets be witnesses? The poetry throughout the ages has served different services. Whether to convey liturgical material, regional news, or to instruct, poetry has been a mode of communication steeped in tradition. In classical times, the poetic emphasis lay in form and craft—as seen in both epic works and smaller sonnets (Homer or Sapho). However, the closer one moves toward Modernism, the more the emphasis moves from transcendental romantic themes, toward symbolism—which argued that art should represent absolute truths which could only be described indirectly. Metaphor and the liberation of technique from tradition were both central to the Symbolism Manifesto.

Maturing into the beginning of the 20th century, Akhmatova came into the poetic world just as Symbolism was becoming popular in the western world. Even prior to the revolution, the divide between east and west was strong, and the poets of Russia headed in a different philosophical direction. Developed in 1910, Acmeism was a school of poetry, which focused on the Greek root for acme, “the best age of man.”

Acmeist poetry celebrated craft and rigorous form over the mysticism of imagery—permanence over transience. Choosing not to emigrate, Akhmatova was harshly censored and closely watched throughout the majority of her life. However, her classical diction and direct details revealed not only the factual authenticity, but represented the stark emotional grounds the country was traversing internally.

Here are two examples of her poetry:

Song of the Last Meeting

My heart was chilled and numb,

but my feet were light.

I fumbled the glove for my left hand

onto my right.

It seemed there were many steps,

I knew—there were only three.

Autumn, whispering in the maples,

kept urging: ‘Die with me!

I’m  cheated by joylessness,

changed by a destiny untrue.’

I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!

I too: I’ll die with you.’

The song of the last meeting.

I see that dark house again.

Only bedroom candles burning,

The yellow, indifferent, flame.

Shade

‘ What does a certain woman know

                               of the hour of her death?’  Mandelshtam

Tallest, most suave of us, why Memory,

forcing you to appear from the past, pass

down a train, swaying, to find me

clear profiled through the window-glass?

Angel or bird? How we debated!

The poet thought you translucent straw.

Through dark lashes, your eyes, Georgian,

looked out, with gentleness, on it all.

Shade, forgive. Blue skies, Flaubert,

insomnia, late-blooming lilac flower,

bring you, and the magnificence of the year,

nineteen-thirteen, to mind, and your

unclouded temperate afternoon, memory

difficult for me now—Oh, shade!

In these poems, we can clearly see how the emphasis in Acmeism of traditional form provides a container for the chaos that ensues within the lived world. Rhyme scheme, meter and verse counter the stress and harsh reality of the themes explored there in. Likewise, the use of realistic imagery creates a simple relationship with a reader. The identification of the audience with the author finds common ground in windows, homes, and flowers—possibly the only commonalities available between 21st century America and revolutionary Russia, they allow for some type of identification throughout time and cultural boundaries.

The rigors of Anna Akhmatova are confined to the strict structure of her poetry. The discipline that the Stalinist Soviet Union instituted on its people is paralleled in her craft. However, the themes and hidden memories bear witness to the tears that have fallen, vanished love, and loneliness of lost time.

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