Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester; Marion Stratton Gould Fund

Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion

May 5 – October 2, 2022

Images of Atheism explores the role of visual propaganda in the Communist Party’s seven-decade war against religion (ca. 1920–1990). 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 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 schoolchildren; 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.

Below, watch exhibition curator, Dr. Wendy Salmond, discuss Soviet religious propaganda at the exhibition’s opening reception.

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Pysanka: Symbol of Renewal

Through July 24, 2022

The Museum is pleased to reinstall Maine-based contemporary Ukrainian artist Lesia Sochor’s Pysanka: Symbol of Renewal, an exhibition inspired by the beautiful tradition of intricately decorated Ukrainian Easter egg painting.

Sochor’s paintings are narratives told in paint that are prompted by personal experiences. The Pysanka series evolved from Sochor’s annual spring ritual of creating Ukrainian Easter eggs called Pysanky. Depicting the symbolic meanings and traditional motifs of this talismanic object in oils and watercolors spawned a new path of contemporary expression for this ancient art form. Sochor creates a direct link to her ancestral roots by continuing the tradition of Pysanky making passed down by her Ukrainian immigrant mother.

Decorated with traditional folk designs using a wax-resist method, Pysanky are miniature jewels that Ukrainians have been creating for countless generations. The word pysanka comes from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, meaning “to write” or “to “inscribe,” as the designs are not painted on, but written (inscribed) with beeswax.


The egg, as the embodiment of the life force, has been associated with mythical and religious ceremonies from the earliest pagan times. Ancient people universally worshiped the sun, with eggs as ritual objects for these celebrations; the yolks representing the sun, the whites the moon.

Through time, the Pysanka, a decorated egg, became deeply important in spring rituals symbolizing nature’s rebirth. It was common among all Slavic peoples, and various forms of the Pysanka were prevalent as far back as 5,000 years before Christ. The geographical location of Ukraine made it less accessible to new cultural influences, so the development of the design was able to flourish and grow.

With the coming of Christianity, much of the symbolism of nature’s rebirth became equated with Christ’s resurrection. It, therefore, became incorporated into Easter celebrations of the new religion. Today, during the holidays, there are Pysanky in every Ukrainian home. They are taken to church, blessed, and given as gifts to family and friends.

The technique used is a wax resist process. The designs are drawn on the egg with melted beeswax which flows from a tool called a Kystka. After being dipped in a series of dyes, the wax is removed, and the final pattern is revealed. Each egg involves a trinity of symbols: the egg itself, the design, and the color. This spring tradition is passed down from one generation to the next as it has been to me by my Ukrainian mother. I now continue the custom with my family.

Being first and foremost a painter, the annual ritual of Pysanka making was the conduit for a decade long exploration of paintings in the 1990’s. Depicting this age-old art form, so rich in symbolism and lore, spawned a new path of expression. The traditional meanings and motifs of this sacred, talismanic object provoked new interpretations integrating ancient narratives with contemporary content and imagery, using both oils and watercolors.

Ukraine is headlining the news with the unthinkable happening. There has been an unjust and cruel invasion of a peaceful country. This exhibit is poignant in that it manifests solidarity with an independent nation; one with its own beautiful culture, language, and traditions. Ukraine has endured historical hardships but remains fortified in its beliefs and determination to steer its own path. I am honored to share this work that connects me to my roots, the homeland of my ancestors.

Tea is for Tradition

February 3 – October 2, 2022

The objects associated with Russian tea are tactile reminders of this important tradition and evoke warmth, home, and family. Much of tea’s popularity is owed to Russia’s literary greats and decorative artists, for it is in their craft that tea becomes immortalized as a central aspect of the Russian identity.

This mini-exhibition in the Museum’s lobby explores the permeation of tea culture in Russian art, craft, and literature.