The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman

One of the most famous statues in all of Russia, The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman, was created in the year 1937 by sculptor Vera Mukhina.

Mukina drew inspiration from an ancient Greek sculpture, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, from the 5th century BC. Interestingly, the events of 5th century BC in Athens were not much different from those that occurred in Soviet Russia during the 1930s.

Harmodius and Aristogeiton were two brothers who killed the brother of Hippias, the first sole leader of Athens, known for his tyrannical brutality. Hippias sought revenge for his brother’s death by subjecting his subjects to one of two fates: exile or death. This is a direct parallel to the events that happened in the same decade that the statue was created. Stalin, like Hippias, used the assassination of Sergey Kirov, a prominent Bolshevik and head of the Leningrad sector, as a catalyst for initiating the purges of the 1930s. In an ironic repeat of history, the victims were also subjected to the same two fates as used centuries earlier by Hippias.

The statue itself symbolizes the “eternal union of the working class and the peasantry”, with the working class being represented by the man and the peasantry by the woman, symbolically placed so that their stride in socialism would reach from the east to the west.

Mukhina’s work is an example of Socialist Realism, which, established at the Writer’s Union Congress in 1934, “was the sole method of Soviet cultural production”. The transformation of art in this way was needed in order to evoke a type of political mythology to take the place of religious symbols. The statue is a “very significant embodiment of what the “New World” and “New Person” should reflect” and although it embodied the freedom hoped to be achieved through Socialism, it was also erected at the height of repression.

Fâtu-Tutoveanu, Andrada. Constructing Female Identity in Soviet Art in the 1930s. A Case Study: Vera Mukhina’s Sculpture.” Bulletin of the Transylvania University of Brasov, Series IV: Philology & Cultural Studies, vol. 3, no. 52, Jan. 2010, pp. 249–258.

At the base of the statue you can see the various ethnic groups depicted, such as Kazaks and Dagestani. This representation evokes very powerful symbolism, as the man and woman who are featured more prominently are of ethnic Slavic origin. It is at the base where tourists can now find a museum about the history of the statue and the history of architecture in Russia.

In comparison to the Statue of Liberty which took 11 years to complete, the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue was finished in a mere 6 months, a fact of which Mukhina was very proud. The statue was displayed in various locations before taking a permanent residence in the heart of Moscow.

 In 1937, the statue was the main feature at the Soviet pavilion in the Paris World Fair. 

If you look closely at the photograph above, you can see that the statue was placed facing the statue representing Nazi Germany, with the Eiffel Tower in between. Both statues ended up receiving a tie; each country was awarded the Grand Prix.

Two years later in 1939, it was displayed in the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, where not only art was represented but various branches of agriculture were proudly displayed and celebrated for its accomplishments under Soviet rule. Representatives from each union republic and major region exhibited their cultural and regional diversity with folk songs, dance, traditional dress, and more.

Although the exhibition was closed during World War II, the symbolism of the statue was circulated in an effort to boost morale and patriotism. Posters also circulated featuring the statue, as well as stamps and other forms of propaganda. It also became the official Mosfilm logo in 1947.

This poster celebrating the 24th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union was most likely intended to reach the settlers of the Jewish Autonomous Region, Birobidzhan, which was used to group Jews together under the advertisement of a new “Zion”.

After World War II, the statue was disassembled and put into storage. Restoration efforts began in 2005 and the statue was revealed once more to the public in 2010. The story of its assembly was proudly featured in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and was met with some criticism.

The statue of The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman stands on a socialist past, built during one of the most troubling times in Russian history. However, the patriotism it evoked during World War II represents more than the dark past it is often associated with. It represents how Russia emerged at the end of the war: a world power recognized by other nations, whose rebuilding efforts and wave of New Patriotism in the 1930s contributed to its struggle for victory despite the odds.

2 thoughts on “The Worker and the Kolkhoz Woman

  1. Hi Gina, what a funny anecdote you started your post with!! And that parallel you’ve found between the statue’s history and the purges is so fascinating. The research and analysis you’ve done here is excellent – I learned a lot from reading this. Wonderful post!

    Like

  2. What a fascinating exploration of the back story of this very famous statue! I did not know about the connections to ancient Greece, and that piece is really interesting. Of course Kirov wasn’t really Stalin’s “personal friend” – he was his political rival, and it’s safe to say that Stalin was behind Kirov’s assassination, which served two purposes: 1) taking out a potential rival and 2) providing a pretext for the purges.
    Also I love the way you’re using hyperlinks to give depth to your narrative. That story about Trotsky’s “hair” in the peasant woman’s skirt is wild!
    I know the statue was “na remont” for a long time, but I do think it was on view (at VDNKh) — sometimes behind scaffolding? But I’m pretty sure I remember it being there in 80s and 90s.
    Oh, and I love that tie in with the Sochi Olympics — just goes to show how important a symbolic anchor of national identity can be – even when the “country” it represents no longer exists.

    Like

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