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.