Exhibition of illustrations from Soviet Union children's books

Lithuania-based Giedre Jankeviciute, curator of Tara Books' exhibition 'Children’s Book Illustration from Soviet Lithuania (1940-1990): A Journey Across Time and Context' Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

“Look at this,” says Giedrë Jankeviciûtë, flipping through a Tamil picture book for children at Tara Books’ Book Building. “I don’t know the language, but I’m able to understand the culture, how people lived, how they dressed, what they ate…” The curator of an exhibition ‘Children’s Book Illustration from Soviet Lithuania (1940-1990): A Journey Across Time and Context’, Giedrë feels that to the outsider, children’s books are windows into the society they are part of.

“They tell visual stories that are like maps… they are as good as tourist guides,” she feels. Her collection of illustrations offers not just a glimpse of another world and another time, but talks of how generations of people were affected by political propaganda. Giedrë was born and raised in Lithuania, which was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1940 to 1990.

Her aunt worked in the children’s literature department of the State Publishing House. She hence grew up on a heavy dose of books from Christmassy pop-ups to “frightful” children’s books that featured experimental art. These books, the subjects they dealt with, the politics that were injected through art into their pages, how the different artistic styles changed over time in her part of the world… stayed with her and shaped her as a historian. Her exhibition, says Giedrë, looks at how art history can take an anthropological approach.

Books from the Soviet Union have long been part of our lives in India. Giedrë’s collection depicts a people for whom justice and equality and even food, was not easy to come by. Socialist realism ruled over their children’s books. People of different ethnicities holding red flags, in an ‘ideologically charged volume of verse’ from 1961 that celebrates the ‘social diversity of the Soviet Union’; a pink-cheeked child frying fish on the moon, an illustration that depicts the Soviet Union’s race with the U.S. for space travel; pop art of automobiles done in 1972, to symbolise ‘mobility and growth’… the illustrations take us through Lithuania. Folk art, paper cut art, the European art Deco tradition... their styles changed with time and the mood of their nation.

In one particularly grim piece of work, an artist depicts a kid walking through a dim-lit forest, whose bare trees wear sad faces, during the winter. Giedrë explains that this was done during the 80s, a particularly “hard period” when there was an economic collapse. Works of the period reflect melancholy, and are done in dull colours, with subjects sporting frowns. Walking us through the exhibition, Giedrë remembers the many “terrible fairytales” she read as a child. Also part of the show are books from the Soviet Union from Tara’s collection.

The exhibition will be on till November 15 at Book Building, Thiruvanmiyur. For details, call 2442 6696.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 4:31:14 PM |

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