Anne Bobroff-Hajal’s series of polyptychs titled Playground of the Autocrats is comprised of multilayered panels that reflect the artist’s simultaneous interest in contemporary animation and history. Bobroff-Hajal earned a PhD in Russian history for which she conducted extensive research in the Soviet Union. As a lifelong animation enthusiast, she served as a board member of the New York chapter of the International Animation Society. She began expressing herself artistically from a young age, encouraged by her father who organized private lessons with a local portraitist. Bobroff-Hajal stopped painting in graduate school, but profoundly missed the art world. “I loved doing the research, but it was not the right world for me. I express myself in images, I think visually,” says Bobroff-Hajal. She began working on Playground of the Autocrats over a decade ago and found that this project finally allowed her to reconcile her passion for both history and art.
Bobroff-Hajal initially conceived Playground of the Autocrats as a series of short animated films about Russian history. Later, she decided to create the collage-like polyptychs, utilizing speech bubbles with lyrics she had written as the films’ soundtrack. This creative process allows for a multisensory experience of her work as the visual and auditory are simultaneously stimulated. While the collages are whimsical in form, the content confronts the autocratic regimes that have recurred throughout Russian history. Bobroff-Hajal believes that the best way to understand this difficult history is with imagination and humor, a technique actively used throughout Playground of the Autocrats. The artist describes this work as “comical, but deadly serious.”
To create the panels, Bobroff-Hajal conducts extensive research to ensure that each part is as historically accurate as possible. She then combines anachronistic figures and episodes to highlight the main thematic considerations. Next, she uses complex computer programming to plan out each section, carefully layering each detail to create a balance of color, line and movement. Only once she is satisfied with the historical accuracy and visual organization does she proceed to physically create the panels by using a combination of printing, photographing, enlarging, reducing, and painting. In this way, these complex works function as collages both from the artistic and the historical perspectives.
Bobroff-Hajal named this series Playground of the Autocrats because Russia’s landscape, which is marked by thousands of miles of steppes, is reminiscent of a colossal playground. Seen together, the series tells the story of the Russian playground, those who ruled it, and those who lived under this rule. The figures of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great – imagined as the infant Stalin’s flying fairy godparents – are the panels’ narrators. Learn more at annebobroffhajal.com