"Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion" opens at Museum of Russian Icons
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"Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion" opens at Museum of Russian Icons
Mikhail Mikhailovich Cheremnykh The Anti-Religious Alphabet, 1932, color lithograph. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester; Marion Stratton Gould Fund.

CLINTON, MASS.- The Museum of Russian Icons presents Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion, May 5 – October 2, 2022, an exhibition exploring the role of visual propaganda in the Communist Party’s seven-decade war against religion.

Karl Marx’s dictum that “Religion is the opium of the people” permeated official culture and everyday life in the former USSR. Beginning in the early 1920s, the Soviet state waged an aggressive media campaign against religion and its institutions, blitzing the population with a steady stream of visually persuasive graphic materials.

With their eye-catching design, strident slogans, and stereotyped characters, the posters and publications of Soviet atheism demonized the world’s religions and jeered at those who practiced them. Above all, they appealed to young people by promising a new world of abundance and moral values replacing the superstitions and injustices of the past. Intended mainly for domestic consumption, this remarkable campaign to eradicate faith is among the least known aspects of Soviet visual culture.

The exhibition, curated by Dr. Wendy Salmond, shows the shifting strategies deployed in the Soviet war on religion, at times appealing to science and reason, at others stoking fear and resentment, or exposing individual expressions of faith to ridicule.

Among the exhibit’s highlights are a virtual “Godless Corner” showing how atheist materials were to replace icons in the public space; a rare portfolio of antireligious alphabet cards targeting school children; and posters from the Brezhnev era meant to stem the growing religiosity of Soviet citizens as communism approached its end. Uniting the images from across this seventy-year span is a visual language of right and wrong, us and other, whose coercive power can still be felt today.

Dr. Wendy Salmond, an art history professor at Chapman University in Orange, California, is a scholar of Russian and early Soviet art, architecture, and design. She is particularly interested in exploring the intersection of diverse cultural traditions in Russia and in the formation of national identity. Dr. Salmond, who received her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, has been a guest curator of exhibitions at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington DC (Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs, 2004) and The New York Public Library (Russia Imagined, 1825-1925: The Art and Impact of Fedor Solntsev, 2006). Her publications on Russian art include Arts and Crafts in Late Imperial Russia, Treasures into Tractors: The Selling of Russia's Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938, Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs, and most recently, Eternity in Low Earth Orbit: Icons on the International Space Station. She is the editor of the Journal of Icon Studies, published by the Museum of Russian Icons. Her current book project is Russian Icons in America. The Fate of Orthodox Painting, 1917-39. 

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