Greg Castillo – Soviet Orientalism: Socialist Realism and Built Tradition

The cultural practices of the Soviet Union in consolidating its eastern empire after the 1917 revolution bear a striking, yet largely unexplored, resemblance to practices that have been well documented in the West as colonialist and Orientalist. Under an imperative to remake “backward” societies in the image of socialism, cultural authorities monumentalized the forms of vernacular design to symbolize the regional identity of peoples, at the same time they were eliminating the social and political strucures that underpinned vernacular traditions. The paper studies these practices both in the construction of high-profile individual buildings and in terms of a more general attack on regional urban forms. The calculated use of regional folk tradition largely disappeared in the years after Stalin’s death. But modern variants have reemerged since the late 1960s in ways that border on kitsch.

Castillo, Greg, Soviet Orientalism: Socialist Realism and Built Tradition, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, volume VIII, number 2., p.33-47, 1997

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