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School of History

Queen Mary academic explores rich history of Soviet art

Dr Andy Willimott’s new book, ‘Openness and Idealism: Soviet Posters 1985-1991’, looks back at the colourful and radical posters of Glasnost.


Glasnost, translating as ‘openness’ or ‘transparency’ was a movement that allowed for artistic and open-minded alternatives to the state-endorsed socio-political art. Within this movement, posters became the primary vehicles for confronting the history of the USSR from the viewpoint of its impending end.

In the book, Dr Andy Willimott and contributing authors argue that history has overlooked the ideological ambitions and revolutionary heritage of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), reforming initiatives instigated by Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

Dr Willimott, Senior Lecturer in Modern Russian History at Queen Mary University of London, explains: “Confronted with a failing economy and the twilight of the Communist mode of governance, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev encouraged citizens to engage in critical discussion about the Soviet past and its potential future. As a result, Glasnost became a movement that began a new important chapter in the visual culture of Russia and the Soviet Union.”

The new book’s historical overview is illustrated with over 200 reproductions of posters from the USSR’s final chapter. Colourful and radical posters of Glasnost depict subjects ranging from the despairs of war and the desire for peace to environmentalism, the AIDS epidemic, famine and poverty, substance abuse, corruption and bureaucracy, the impact of nuclear power, and the artistic and social possibilities of the time.

Discussing his latest book, Dr Willimott said: “The publication of ‘Openness and Idealism: Soviet Posters 1985-1991’ poignantly takes you through an era of reform where openness and freedom of expression was favourable and encouraged, where as fast forward to current day Russia, any hint of criticism can bring a jail term.”

‘Openness and Idealism’ was printed two weeks before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, inciting a devastating and ongoing tragedy whose reverberations are felt around the world. As a result, the book’s release was paused and a poster clamouring for peace was reprinted from the Collection for inclusion, as a show of solidarity.

Dr Willimott’s book ‘Openness and Idealism: Soviet Posters 1985-1991’ is published by Skira and is available to buy from Amazon, Artbook, The Portobello Bookshop and Waterstones.



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